A New Way to Fight Cancer

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have developed a technique that enables skin cells to look for (and destroy) cancer cells. Remarkably, experiments on mice showed that these modified skin cells can find and kill cancerous brain tumor cells.

Their study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer, and the survival rate beyond two years is only 30%. Unfortunately, even once doctors remove the brain tumor, it is nearly impossible to get to the invasive tendrils that dive into the brain and allow the tumor grow back.

Moreover, these brain tumors are aggressive and grow fast, which forms astrocytes (basically, these are cells that reside in the supportive tissue of the brain). Astrocytes multiply very quickly, and they are supported by a large network of blood vessels.

Consequently, as was noted, this particular cancer is very difficult to treat, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

How it Works

"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," Dr. Shawn Hingtgen, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, said in a press release. "This is the first time this direct reprogramming technology has been used to treat cancer."

Photo by Suttha Burawonk/Shutterstock

The team of researchers focused on reprogramming the skin cells, also called fibroblasts, so that they become neural stem cells. These neural stem cells produce a tumor-killing protein that hunt and kill off cancer cells.

The experiment was performed on mice, and the scientists utilized a physical matrix to keep them there long enough to hunt down cancer cells. The successful experiment showed an increased survival rate in mice by 160 to 220 percent.

In line with this amazing study, future research will be conducted using human stem cells and could possibly produce drugs that will enhance these reprogrammed cells, allowing them to more efficiently kill off cancer cells.

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