Cancer is one of the leading causes of death across the world. But a group of experts say they have a new and innovative way of fighting the disease. Can scientists manufacture stem cells that will kill cancer cells?

BBC reports on the new discovery. The group of experts began the research at Harvard  Medical School a few years ago. Their trial runs show that stem cells can indeed be created to fight deadly forms of brain cancer.

Why or how have stem cells done well in fighting brain cancer? Brain tumors are usually solid and difficult to reach so stem cells are considered a productive way of fighting them. Experts say that the accessibility characteristic of stem cells to brain cancer make them the perfect fighting machine against brain cancer.

How was the research conducted?

“In experiments on mice, the stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins, which kill brain tumours, without killing normal cells or themselves,” according to BBC news.

Researchers concede the importance of testing this on humans first. However Harvard experts are confident that this procedure will be the future of cancer treatment. The study was published in the journal Stem Cells. It was the work of accomplished scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital as well as the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

How did the idea for this test surface?

The scientists spent several years researching a stem-cell-based therapy for cancer, which would annihilate only tumor cells and no others. The BBC explains,

“They used genetic engineering to make stem cells that spewed out cancer-killing toxins, but, crucially, were also able to resist the effects of the poison they were producing. They also posed no risk to normal, healthy cells. In animal tests, the stem cells were surrounded in gel and placed at the site of the brain tumour after it had been removed. Their cancer cells then died as they had no defence against the toxins.”

The researchers are pleasantly surprised with the results. Dr. K. Shah is the lead director of the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He also authored the study. Dr. Shah stated that the results were extremely positive.

Dr. Shah issued a statement explaining the benefits of the study and the procedure,

“After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumours, we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells. Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don't work as well in solid tumours because the cancers are not as accessible and the toxins have a short half-life. But genetically engineering stem cells has changed all that. Now, we have toxin-resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs.”

What is the next step?

Dr. Shah said he will test the technique using a number of different therapies on mice with glioblastoma, which is the most common brain tumor in human adults. He hopes the therapies could be used in clinical trials within the next couple of years.

Many experts told the BBC that the study is extremely promising. Chris Mason, a professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, said that the procedure will probably be quite effective. He said, “This is a clever study, which signals the beginning of the next wave of therapies. It shows you can attack solid tumours by putting mini pharmacies inside the patient, which deliver the toxic payload direct to the tumour. Cells can do so much. This is the way the future is going to be.”

Another expert also commented on the study and had a slightly different perspective. Nell Barrie, who is a senior science information manager for Cancer Research UK, said the study was an ‘ingenious approach’. In particular she said, “We urgently need better treatments for brain tumours and this could help direct treatment to exactly where it's needed. But so far the technique has only been tested in mice and on cancer cells in the lab, so much more work will need to be done before we'll know if it could help patients with brain tumours.” However she did concede to the point that this type of research could help boost survival rates and bring needed progress for brain cancers.

Gerry Oginski
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