Scientists have successfully used stem cells derived from human body fat to deliver biological treatments directly to the brains of mice with the most common and aggressive form of brain tumour, significantly extending their lives. (Agencies)
The experiments advance the possibility that the technique could work in people after surgical removal of brain cancers called glioblastomas to find and destroy any remaining cancer cells in difficult-to-reach areas of the brain, researchers said.
Glioblastoma cells are particularly nimble; they are able to migrate across the entire brain, hide out and establish new tumours. Cure rates for the tumour are notoriously low as a result, researchers said.
In the mouse experiments, researchers used mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) - which have an unexplained ability to seek out cancer and other damaged cells - that they harvested from human fat tissue.
They modified the MSCs to secrete bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4), a small protein involved in regulating embryonic development and known to have some tumour suppression function.
The researchers, who had already given a group of mice glioblastoma cells several weeks earlier, injected stem cells armed with BMP4 into their brains.
Researchers said the mice treated this way had less tumour growth and spread, and their cancers were overall less aggressive and had fewer migratory cancer cells compared to mice that didn't get the treatment.
Meanwhile, the mice that received stem cells with BMP4 survived significantly longer, living an average of 76 days, as compared to 52 days in the untreated mice.
"These modified mesenchymal stem cells are like a Trojan horse, in that they successfully make it to the tumour without being detected and then release their therapeutic contents to attack the cancer cells," said study leader Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Standard treatments for glioblastoma include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, but even a combination of all three rarely leads to more than 18 months of survival after diagnosis.
Finding a way to get biologic therapy to mop up what other treatments can't get is a long-sought goal, said Quinones-Hinojosa, who cautions that years of additional studies are needed before human trials of fat-derived MSC therapies could begin.
The finding was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Scientists have successfully used stem cells derived from human body fat to deliver biological treatments directly to the brains of mice with the most common and aggressive form of brain tumour, significantly extending their lives.