Skin Cells Could Help Fight Cancer
According to research done at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and published in the journal Nature Communications, a “groundbreaking discovery” in the field of cancer treatment has been made; a method of transforming skin cells into stem cells that can target and destroy brain cancer.
The study reveals how the transformed skin cells were able to hunt down and kill glioblastomas, which are a type of brain tumour belonging to a class of brain tumours called gliomas.
This is the most common and lethal form of malignant primary brain tumours in adults. The current prognosis for this type of tumour is poor, only around 30% of patients surviving beyond 2 years from diagnosis.
According to study leader Shawn Hingtgen, PhD, of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC, even if the surgeon is able to remove most of the glioblastoma, there are almost always remnants of the cancer left in the brain, known as tendrils, which are finger-like, cancerous tentacles that become deeply embedded in the brain that can form a new glioblastoma quite quickly.
Hingtgen noted that “Patients desperately need a better standard of care.”
The team of researchers set about identifying a personalised form of treatment for glioblastoma which can target and kill these tendrils, eliminating the cancer entirely.
Hingtgen and his colleagues reprogrammed collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts to turn into neural stem cells, which they then tested in mice with glioblastoma and found that the cells showed an “innate ability” to move through the brain and hunt down and destroy the cancerous tendrils.
The team also found that they could also engineer the neural stem cells to generate a protein called TRAIL that can kill tumours, making the cancer-fighting ability of the stem cells even stronger. The survival of the mice with glioblastoma could be improved by up to 220%with the neural stem cells, depending on the type of tumour the rodents had.
The authors of the study commented that, “Together, these data support the potential of iNSCs [induced neural stem cells] to serve as highly effective drug-delivery vehicles for treatment of solid and invasive brain tumours.”
According to the Team , their findings build on a previous discovery that won a Nobel Prize in 2012, in which researchers found a way to transform skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells.
“Our work represents the newest evolution of the stem-cell technology that won the Nobel Prize in 2012,” says Hingtgen. “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.”