Scientists have created cells that kill brain cancer

Harvard Medical School scientists have engineered cancer killing cells in a laboratory. The research is a breakthrough as they have used stem cells and turned them into cells that destroy cancer in the brain.

Brain tumours

Brain tumours are notoriously difficult to reach, as the cancer matter is solid and hard to get to. Using stem cells allows better access and is a more effective way of targeting the cancer cells.

The stem cells were altered genetically to secrete toxins that only affected the cancerous cells in the brain, leaving normal healthy cells untouched.

So far the scientists have tested the laboratory cells on mice, where results have proved encouraging. The next stage is to start human trials

Dr Khalid Shah, lead author and director of the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said the results were very positive:

“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

He added: “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 aren’t as accessible and the toxins have a short half-life.”

The study has been published in the journal Stem Cells, and was a collaboration between scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

This research has taken place over several years, where the focus has been to produce a genetically modified stem cell therapy that would only target cancerous cells and leave the surrounding healthy tissue unharmed.  The other difficulty scientists had to deal with was that the genetically altered stem cells were secreting highly toxic emissions, but the actual cells had to be able to withstand these toxins themselves.

In tests at the laboratory, the stem cells were covered in gel and put where the brain tumour had been after it had been removed. Their cancer cells then died as they could not fight against the toxins. Using genetically engineering stem cells was diffierent Dr Shah said:

“Now, we have toxin-resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs.”

Experts around the world are hailing this study as ‘the future of cancer treatment’.

The future of cancer treatment

Prof Chris Mason from the University College London 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,” he added:

“Cells can do so much. This is the way the future is going to be.”

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager for Cancer Research UK, said it was an “ingenious approach”.

“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.”

She said this type of research could help boost survival rates and bring much-needed progress for brain cancers.

Further studies using different types of brain tumours are now being tested using the stem cell method. Dr Shah is now hoping to test mice with glioblastoma, which is the most common brain tumour in human adults.

As for clinical trials on human, this could be as early as five years.

Source: BBC News

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