Stem cells from fat show promise in treatment of brain cancer

Cells may give clinicians new way to chase migrating cancer, Johns Hopkins researchers say

Johns Hopkins researchers have found that stem cells from a patient's own fat may be able to deliver new treatments directly into the brain after removal of the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor.

The stem cells, called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), have the ability to seek out damaged cells, investigators say, such as those involved in cancer, and may provide clinicians a new tool for accessing difficult-to-reach parts of the brain where cancer cells can hide and proliferate. Harvesting these stem cells from fat is less invasive and less expensive than getting them from bone marrow, a more commonly studied method, researchers say.

Results of the laboratory study are described online in the journal PLOS ONE.

"The biggest challenge in brain cancer is the migration of cancer cells," says study leader Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, professor of neurosurgery, oncology, and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Even when we remove the tumor, some of the cells have already slipped away and are causing damage somewhere else. 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 personalized medicine."

Currently, standard treatments for glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor, are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, but even a combination of all three rarely leads to more than 18 months of survival after diagnosis. Glioblastoma tumor cells are particularly nimble, migrating across the entire brain and establishing new tumors. This migratory capability is thought to be a key reason for the low cure rate of this tumor type.

"Essentially these MSCs are like a 'smart' device that can track cancer cells," Quinones-Hinojosa says.

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