FEB 25, 2016 09:05 AM PST

Ordinary Skin Cells Transformed Into Brain Tumor Assassinators

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Reprogrammed stem cells (green) hunt and kill glioblastoma cells (pink)Cellular reprogramming has been a hot topic in translational and regenerative medicine ever since it was first described almost a decade ago. Recently, a team from the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill harnessed this potential, turning ordinary skin cells into predators that kill brain cancer cells. This innovation is hailed as a breakthrough in medical science, as it provides the potential of a new treatment option for an intractable form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma.
 
Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common and deadly form of primary brain cancer. In GBM, malignant glial cells form vast networks of tendrils throughout the brain, making it nearly impossible to surgically remove all the cancerous tissues. Dubbed as the “octopus tumor,” GBMs can evade even the most aggressive surgeries, chemotherapies, and radiotherapies, leaving patients with a five-year survival rate of less than 10%.
 
"Patients desperately need a better standard of care," said Shawn Hingtgen, senior study author and assistant professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
 
To combat hidden GBM tumor cells, the research team turned to neural stem cells (NSCs), which have an innate ability to move throughout the brain, accessing hard-to-reach solid and invasive cancer cells. But the limited supply of NSCs deep within the adult brain is not enough to fight GBM. So researchers at UNC decided to make more of these NSCs.
 
 
Starting with fibroblasts, which are ordinary skin cells that produce collagen and connective tissues, the researchers added reprogramming factors and coaxed these cells to become induced neural stem cells (iNSCs). When transplanted into mice, these iNSCs had the ability to move throughout the brain, along with the penchant for killing brain tumor cells. In mice with different tumor types, the iNSCs increased survival time by 160 to 220 percent.
 
The researchers are exploring genetic modifications that would enable the iNSCs to release toxic tumor-killing proteins. Additionally, the iNSCs can be adapted to carry anti-cancer drugs, which would then be ferried directly to the cancer cells, killing cancer at its home base. Both types of modifications would make the iNSCs an even more aggressive assassinator of cancer cells in the brain.
 
"Our work represents the newest evolution of the stem-cell technology that won the Nobel Prize in 2012," Hingtgen said. "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."

Additional source: EurekAlert!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 29, 2018
Microbiology
MAY 29, 2018
Environmental Factors Drive Belly Fat Buildup
Abdominal fat is a major risk factor for disease. New work could help find those at risk for increased belly fat, and help reverse that trend....
JUN 06, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 06, 2018
New and Improved Troponin Test for Future Heart Attack Risk
A test used by doctors in the emergency room to determine if a person is having a heart attack is now equipped to be more sensitive than ever. In addition...
JUN 20, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
JUN 20, 2018
The Cause of a Rare Neurological Disease is Identified
In a recent study, scientists sequenced the genome to find the mutation behind a disorder that causes blindness and paralysis....
AUG 30, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
AUG 30, 2018
Genetic Changes can Help Diagnose Childhood Cancers Far Earlier
New research has revealed genetic rearrangements that happen far before bone cancer starts growing in children....
SEP 21, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
SEP 21, 2018
We will teach you to be a doctor, said us to the machine.
Clinical diagnosis are now possible in the hands of computers through machine learning. Whence, the reports of successful trials for the diagnostics....
NOV 07, 2018
Immunology
NOV 07, 2018
Inflammation Can Steal Your Sleep
A link between inflammation and the circadian rhythm has been determined in mouse models. High-fat-diets may be the cause....
Loading Comments...