Prof. Shawn Hingtgen and his team of researchers at the University of North Carolina have demonstrated that they can use reprogrammed adult skin cells to find glioblastoma cancer cells in the brains of mice and destroy them, shrinking the brain tumors in mice by 98%.
Using time-lapse motion analysis the team were able to show that their engineered neural stem cells homed in automatically on brain cancer cells in the petri dish. They then injected the engineered neural stem cells directly into the brain tumors of mice. The mouse tumors treated shrank between 20- to 50-fold within a month compared with the tumors of mice that didn’t receive the injections. Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer with few patients living longer than 15 months after diagnosis.
It has been shown by previous studies that neural stem cells can treat brain tumors by following chemical signals released by the tumor cells and a number of labs have been working on exploiting this ability to develop treatments.
One of the main obstacles faced by researchers has been how difficult it is to obtain these neural stem cells from a patient, another is the fact that donor stem cells have a risk of causing immune rejection in the brain. Their technique overcomes these obstacles by reprogramming collected skin cells into engineered neural stem cells using a process called “Skin Flipping” which Prof. Shinya Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize for in 2012.
The novel technique Prof. Hingtgen and his team have developed could provide pathologists with a rapid way of creating personalized treatments for brain cancers. The team was able to create the personalized anti-cancer stem cells in just four days.
Prof. Hingtgen and his team have already begun studying their technique in larger animal models using human skin cells from patients with brain cancer. They hope to begin human clinical trials within a year.