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Treating Deadly Brain Cancer Using Skin Cells

Skin cells have been reprogrammed to become cancer-killing neural stem cells that are able to recognise and kill the remnants of a deadly brain tumour. The paper is published in the journal Nature Communications.

brain tumour

The war on cancer is getting more and more intense as researchers are trying to come up with innovative ways to uproot the disease. A new study might have the answer for a type of brain tumour called glioblastoma whose patients have only 30% chance of survival beyond two years, bearing testimony to the fact that it is specially hard to treat; even if the majority of the tumour growths are removed surgically, the invasive tendrils might still spread into the depths of the brain to ultimately grow back.

This can fortunately be avoided now as scientists have modified skin cells into stem cells that can destroy the tumours. It is hoped that this research will constitute a more effective treatment for the lethal disease.

The technique with which the anti-cancer cells were made is described as the “newest evolution” of the 2007 Nobel-Prize-winning stem-cell technology that involved turning skin cells into stem cells, says one of the authors, Shawn Hingtgen, assistant professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hingtgen and his team directed this work into a brain-cancer-killing machine (a feat achieved for the first time), the main aim of which is to kill the cancerous tendrils, thereby fully killing the glioblastoma.

The researchers worked on skin cells called fibroblasts. The latter normally build collagen as well as connective tissue. The fibroblasts were reprogrammed to become neural stem cells in mice. These stem cells are known to move throughout the brain, and are able to identify and kill remnants of cancer cells.

The stem cells were also engineered to synthesise a protein that would further combat cancer.

Eventually, the survival rate of the mice was found to increase by 160 to 220%, depending on the type of cancer.

The next phase of the research will be to work on human stem cells, and how to use them for the delivery of anti-cancer drugs. Meanwhile, the scientists are attempting to enhance the duration the stem cells are able to look for the cancerous tendrils.


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