Cancer-killing stem cells engineered in lab

Oct. 29, 2014

Scientists from Harvard Medical School have discovered a way of turning stem cells into killing machines to fight brain cancer. In experiments on mice, the stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins which kill brain tumors, without killing normal cells or themselves. Researchers say the next stage is to test the procedure in humans.

The study, published in the journal Stem Cells, was the work of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. For many years, they had been researching a stem cell-based therapy for cancer, which would kill only tumor cells and no others. They used genetic engineering to make stem cells that spewed out cancer-killing toxins, but, crucially, were also able to resist the effects of the poison they were producing. They also posed no risk to normal, healthy cells.

Dr. Khalid Shah, lead author and director of the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, says the results were very positive. “After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumors, we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells.”

He adds: “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 and the toxins have a short half-life. But genetically engineering stem cells has changed all that.” Read the BBC News report.

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