Scientists at Harvard have developed a stem cell that kills cancer.
At Harward, a team of scientists have developed a novel way of fighting cancer,stem cells By using stem cells that have been specially designed to excrete a cancer-killing toxin, a group of researchers have developed a form of treatment that can target only cancer cells without damaging any normal healthy cells. The Independent reported on Saturday that the genetically engineered stem cells proved to be so effective on mice that experts now believe that the treatment could become a major breakthrough in cancer research. The study was published in the journal Stem Cell.
While using toxins to fight cancer is fairly common, the scientists behind the study innovated in their development of a stem cell that not only deploys the right kind of toxin, but doesn’t succumb to the effects of the toxin itself. The toxin is also safe for normal healthy cells to be in contact with. Dr Khalid Shaw, who led the research team which was composed of scientists from both Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said: “Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don’t work as well in solid tumors because the cancers aren’t as accessible.”
In order to get enough of the cancer-killing toxins into affected but inaccessible areas, the team needed to develop a delivery system that could produce the toxins but wouldn’t be harmed by them. “A few years ago we recognized that stem cells could be used to continuously deliver these therapeutic toxins to tumors in the brain, but first we needed to genetically engineer stem cells that could resist being killed themselves by the toxins,” said Shah. Once the team had developed a form of cell that could resist the toxin it produced, the scientists got to work deploying it. To get at the cancer, the scientists first surgically removed the bulk of the tumor before placing the stem cells in a biodegradable gel pouch in the tumor site. After the gel dissolved, the stem cells got to work producing the cancer-killing toxin.
According to BBC, the treatment is getting excited responses from many in the fields of stem cell research and cancer treatment. Nell Barrie, senior science information manager for Cancer Research UK, called the treatment an “ingenious approach,” while Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, suggested that the research “signals the beginning of the next wave of therapies.” Dr. Shah currently plans to continue testing on mice with different forms of cancer. If that stage goes well, he hopes to move on to clinical trials in the next five years.