Researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, US, have used stem cells to treat a form of brain cancer in mice. Their results showed that the stem cell treatment appeared to lengthen the survival rates of the mice and also seemed to completely wipe out the cancer in almost one in three cases.
The scientists extracted immature nerve cells from the bone marrow of mice fetuses and used gene therapy to induce them to produce interleukin 12, a cancer-destroying protein. The cells were then injected into the brains of mice with brain tumours.
Nerve cells were selected for this treatment as it is known that they have a way of 'tracking' cells, and the researchers wanted to particularly target cells that 'migrate' away from the main tumour, which often cause tumours to recur following operations to remove them. It is not known precisely why nerve cells are able to do this, but the system has worked in other types of experiment to deliver treatment to the brain.
Following the treatment, the average survival time for the mice was increased by 50 per cent. The mice in which the cancer was completely wiped out are still alive. Ultimately, it is hoped that clinical trials on human patients can begin using this technique and possibly also to use it on other forms of cancer. At present, further research is being undertaken to find an efficient way of harvesting nerve stem cells from human bone marrow.