Ordinary skin cells can be morphed into stem cells reprogrammed to fight glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer
Discovered by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues in 2006, the ability to produce induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) has since revolutionised research on stem cells, because it circumvents the problems that make embryonic stem cells (ESCs) so difficult to use. While ESCs are difficult to source and mired in ethical debate, iPSCs can be made from adult cells and carry little ethical controvery.
Your average iPSC can be produced by administration of 4 specific cellular factors, which are essentially special proteins that act as regulating signals on your DNA - ordering a cell to revert to a more flexible state. While iPSCs aren't perfect yet, they've come a long way and we're beginning to see stem cells enter clinical trials today.
Fewer than 30% of patients with diagnosed glioblastoma live beyond 2 years, largely because it's exceptionally difficult to treat. Other organs can usually survive surgical procedures, but the brain is an extremely delicate organ - not to mention tricky to reach. There is a sore need for new treatment, and reprogrammed stem cells could offer a lifeline.
"Our work represents the newest evolution of the stem-cell technology that won the Nobel Prize in 2012. We wanted to find out if these induced neural stem cells would home in on cancer cells and whether they could be used to deliver a therapeutic agent. This is the first time this direct reprogramming technology has been used to treat cancer"
In the latest promising work, a team from University of North Carolina isolated fibroblast cells taken from mouse skin and set about reprogramming them to become neural stem cells. This type mobile of stem cell has a unique ability to police the brain and home in on cancer cells. The researchers also altered the cells so that they produced a protein harmful to cancer cells, in a 'double whammy' approach.
This strategy increased cancer survival time in mice by 160 to 220%
The results from the experiment were very encouraging, and including additional anti-cancer agents with these cells could boost their effect even more.
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