Glioblastoma is a common and aggressive brain cancer that may put patients in terminal illness. New findings show that human stem cells made from skin may be used in treating this disease.
The study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine
, details how human stem cells can hunt down and kill human brain cancer. The technique works quickly enough to help patients, whose median survival is less than 18 months, and the chance of surviving beyond two years is 30 percent.
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In lab tests conducted last year in mice, the use of stem cells increased the time of survival 160 to 220 percent, depending on the tumor type.
“It used to take weeks to convert human skin cells to stem cells. But brain cancer patients don’t have weeks and months to wait for us to generate these therapies. The new process we developed to create these stem cells is fast enough and simple enough to be used to treat a patient,” says Shawn Hingtgen, assistant professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Care Center in a statement
According to researchers, the key of the treatment is “skin flipping.” The process basically involves harvesting of fibroblasts from the patient. Fibroblasts is the skin cells responsible for producing collagen and connective tissue.
The cells will then be reprogrammed to become what are called, induced neural stem cells, which have an innate ability to lodge on cancer cells in the brain. The stem cells can only find a tumor and bump up against it, not kill it. Thus, researchers had to engineer stem cells that could carry therapeutic agents that the cells can launch at the tumor to kill it.
“We’re one to two years away from clinical trials, but for the first time, we showed that our strategy for treating glioblastoma works with human stem cells and human cancers,” Hingtgen says. “This is a big step toward a real treatment—and making a real difference.”