Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Mesenchymal stem cells against brain cancer

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University released yesterday a study showing that mesenchymal stem cells may one day be an important ingredient in an effective treatment against Glioblastoma (brain cancer). The researchers, led by Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa compared two types of mesenchymal stem cells, MSCs derived from fat and MSCs derived from bone marrow.

Unfortunately, Glioblastoma is very resistant to treatment which includes surgical removal, radiation, and chemotherapy. Previously published literature, indicates that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be used to selectively transfer therapeutic agents to cells affected by brain cancer. Quinones-Hinojosa explains how MSCs could be used to create a personalised treatment plan:

"Building off our findings, we may be able to find a way to arm a patient's own healthy cells with the treatment needed to chase down those cancer cells and destroy them. It's truly personalised medicine."

The main purpose of the study was to assess whether or not there is a difference in the efficacy between MSCs extracted from adipose tissue (fat) and MSCs extracted from bone marrow. It should be noted that MSC extraction from fat is cheaper and less invasive.

The experiments were carried out in-vitro using human-derived MSCs. The researchers used two commercial MSCs lines (from Invitrogen) and also isolated and cultured their own stem cell lines, derived from the fat of two patients. All three lines proliferated, migrated, stayed alive and retained their potency equally well. According to Quinones-Hinojosa, this is very important as it indicates that autologous MSCs might do just fine, avoiding any risks that might arise from the use of allogeneic stem cells.

The study concludes that all MSCs, regardless of the extraction source, are attracted to glioblastoma cells potentially making them "a smart device that can track cancer cells".

MRI image of a glioblastoma
MRI of a glioblastoma in a 15-year-old male.

"Given the well-documented ability to harvest larger numbers of AMSCs from adipose tissue obtained under local anesthesia, adipose tissue may prove to be a more efficient source of MSC for research and clinical applications, while minimising patient morbidity during cell harvesting." Segment from the study

Quinones-Hinojosa says that more studies are planned, adding that human trials are still years away. Ideally, a future MSCs treatment would involve the removal of some fat, prior to brain surgery, from which MSCs would be extracted. The stem cells would then be cultured in vitro and "armed" with anti-cancer drugs. Finally, after the cancer removal, they would be deposited into the brain where they would target and kill any remaining cells.

Glioblastoma is the most common and most aggressive type of brain cancer in humans. It accounts for 52% of all functional tissue brain tumour cases and 20% of all intracranial tumors. Glioblastoma is relatively rare, with incidence of 2–3 cases per 100,000 in Europe and North America. Standard treatment involves chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.  The medial survival of treated patients is only 15 months. If left untreated the median survival is 4-5 months.

Informational video about Glioblastoma 

Pendleton, C., Li, Q., Chesler, D., Yuan, K., Guerrero-Cazares, H., & Quinones-Hinojosa, A. (2013). Mesenchymal Stem Cells Derived from Adipose Tissue vs Bone Marrow: In Vitro Comparison of Their Tropism towards Gliomas PLoS ONE, 8 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058198

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