Programmable Skin Cells To Fight Against Brain Cancer

MRI scan of brain. Image Source: Cardiff University
War against brain cancer

In the war against brain cancer, scientists have weaponized human skin to fight glioblastomas, a deadly form of brain cancer.

In an accelerated series of developments, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a new method to treat Glioblastoma, using human stem cells to track down the cancer cells and kill it. This latest advance has been tested on mice.

Eventually it will be developed and can be used for personalized treatment of people with this form of brain cancer. Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive cancers as it can spread its roots and tendrils into the brain tissue.

The line of treatment is usually chemotherapy and radiotherapy which removes the majority of the tumour. However, the recurrence is very high and a five-year survival rate is terrifyingly low.

All this is about to change. Scientists are exploring ways to exploit chinks in the armour of cancer cells. Cancer cells generally release a chemical that attracts stem cells.

Scientists believe that they can harness this natural property of stem cells of being attracted to tumours, to deliver cancer-killing drugs precisely on site. Stem cells act vibrantly on tumours. Some researchers have used neural stem cells for hunting brain-tumour in mice.

But it’s rather difficult to get neural stem cells from human

Stem cells as homing missiles

The team led by scientist-Shawn Hingtgen have used chemical drugs to convert skin cells into stem cells. They have created neural stem cells from mouse skin cells and these neural stem cells have the weird ability to act against brain-tumour.

According to them, it takes four days to generate the neural stem cells from skin cells of mice.

Another interesting aspect of stem cells is that they move around the brain and can detect the tumour cells and act as cancer-fighting homing missiles.

The neural stem cells have an unique property of binding to the tumour.  This binding leads to the killing of the cancer cells. The neural stem cells are also able to self-replicate consequently making them ideal for treating neurodegenerative diseases or brain injury.

Scientists have reported, in mice that the reprogrammed neural stem cells can shrink brain tumors to 2% to 5% of their original size.

As a result, it has increased the survival rate of mice treated with regenerated stem cells. Hingtgen says that they are a couple of years away from clinical trials. They are also trying to obtain skin cells from patients to make sure that the new method works for the intended people.

He says, “Everything we are doing is to deliver the therapy to the patient as soon as possible.”

Check out this video where Prof. Hingtgen discusses the essence of this research.


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Source Nature UNC

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