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New Study Explores Reprogrammed Skin Cells That Can Kill Brain Tumors

Feb 20, 2017 09:48 AM EST
Brain tumor
MINSK, BELARUS - MARCH 13: 17-year-old Sergei Us from the city of Lida sits in playroom at the Children's Oncology Center on March 13, 2006 in Minsk, Belarus. Sergei has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
(Photo : Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A new study, published in the journal Sciene Translational Medicine, has grabbed the limelight after exploring the potential of using cells to hunt down tumors.

The team of scientists has created what appears to be targeted cells that attack tumors in mice. According to Science Magazine, results showed that the cells shrunk brain tumors between 2 percent and 5 percent of their original mass.

Using adult skin cells to kill the tumors, the new study paves way to the possibility of personalized treatments for glioblastoma -- an aggressive type of brain cancer. If successful, the new treatment can avoid glioblastoma deaths within 12 to 15 months, as it only takes less than a week to create these special tumor-killing cells.

For a bit of a background, glioblastoma spreads cancer cells throughout the brain. This means there is a constant stream of cancer cells that are reproducing in the brain, making it extremely difficult to remove.

However, scientists have found out that glioblastoma creates a "signal" that attracts stem cells. Scientists tried to use this "attraction" as a weapon. They thought that instead of stem cells looking at tumors as something they need to fix, what if they were reprogrammed to kill them?

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Shawn Hingtgen, a biologist from the University of North Carolina explained that this concept cannot be easily tried on human beings because of the sensitive nature of the brains.

So far, there are only three ways to do this: harvest cells directly from the patient, take them from another patient or reprogram the cells themselves. Unfortunately, these processes require invasive surgery, and the chances of the skin cells becoming cancer cells are very high.

Hingtgen's group bypassed this problem by directly transforming the skin cells into neutral stem cells. Unfortunately, this step does not mean immediate application, but this is a great start to the problem of tackling tumors directly from the source.

The researchers tried their method on mice and checked if they can also provide common cancer treatments directly to the glioblastomas in the animals. Results showed that the mice's tumors directly shrank between 20 percent to 50 percent in a span of a month.

Frank Marini from the Wake Forest Institute at North Carolina said that even though the process has proved effective, more tests are needed to check its efficiency when treating human patients.

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