Using Fat Stem Cells to Treat a Deadly Cancer


Johns Hopkins University researchers have reported the successful use of stem cells derived from human body fat to deliver biological treatments directly to the brains of mice suffering from the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor. Such treatments significantly extended the lives of these cancer-stricken animals.

These experiments offer proof-of-principle that such a technique would work in human patients after surgical removal of brain cancers called glioblastomas. This technique provides a way to find and destroy any remaining cancer cells in those areas of the brain that are difficult to reach. Glioblastoma cells represent a challenge for cancer treatments, since they are quite sprightly, and can migrate across the entire brain, hide out and establish new tumors. Consequently, the cure rates for glioblastoma are notoriously low.

In the mouse experiments conducted by the Johns Hopkins group, investigators used mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) from fat tissue. Fat-based MSCs have a mysterious ability to sniff out cancer and other damaged cells. After genetically modifying the MSCs so that they secreted a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4), these MSCs were injected into the brains of mice that suffered from glioblastomas. BMP-4 is a small, secreted protein that plays essential regulatory roles in embryonic development, but also has a demonstrated tumor suppression function.

Study leader Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D., a professor of neurosurgery, oncology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his colleagues published the results of this experiment in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. According to their results, those mice that were treated with the BMP-4-secreting fat-based MSCs had significantly less tumor growth and spread. In general the cancers in these animals were less aggressive and had fewer migratory cancer cells compared to mice that didn’t get the treatment. Also, the stem cell-treated mice survived significantly longer (an average of 76 days, compared to 52 days in the untreated mice).

“These modified mesenchymal stem cells are like a Trojan horse, in that they successfully make it to the tumor without being detected and then release their therapeutic contents to attack the cancer cells.”

Standard treatments for glioblastoma include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Unfortunately, even a combination of all three rarely leads to more than 18 months of survival after diagnosis. Discovering new ways to seek and destroy straggling glioblastoma cells that other treatments can’t get is a long-sought goal, says Quinones-Hinojosa. However, he also cautions that years of additional studies are needed before human trials of fat-derived MSC therapies could begin.

Quinones-Hinojosa also treated brain cancer patients at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, and he and his co-workers were greatly encouraged that the genetically-engineered stem cells let loose into the brain in his experiments did not transform themselves into new tumors.

These latest findings build on research published in March 2013 by Quinones-Hinojosa and his team, which demonstrated that harvesting MSCs from fat was much less invasive and less expensive than getting them from bone marrow (PLoS One, March 2013).

Ideally, he says, if MSCs work as a cancer treatment, a patient with a glioblastoma would have some adipose tissue (fat) removed from any number of locations in the body a short time before surgery. Afterwards, these fat-derived MSCs would be isolated and manipulated in the laboratory so that they would secrete BMP4. Then, after surgeons removed whatever parts of the brain tumor they could get to, they would deposit these BMP-secreting cells into the brain in the hopes that they would seek out and destroy the left-over cancer cells.

 

Stem Cells From Teeth Make Brain-Like Cells


Researchers from the Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Adelaide have shown that stem cells taken from teeth can differentiate in culture into cells that resemble brain cells. This work suggests that stem cells from teeth might someday be sources of regenerative material to treat brain-specific maladies, such as stroke, for instance.

According to Dr. Kylie Ellis, Commercial Development Manager with the University’s commercial arm, Adelaide Research & Innovation (ARI), these stem cells do not form full-fledged neurons, but it is only a matter of time before this group figures out the right culture conditions that will make these cells form true neurons.

“Stem cells from teeth have great potential to grow into new brain or nerve cells, and this could potentially assist with treatments of brain disorders, such as stroke,” said Ellis. This work has been published in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

“The reality is, treatment options available to the thousands of stroke patients every year are limited,” Dr. Ellis says. “The primary drug treatment available must be administered within hours of a stroke and many people don’t have access within that timeframe, because they often can’t seek help for some time after the attack.”

“Ultimately, we want to be able to use a patient’s own stem cells for tailor-made brain therapy that doesn’t have the host rejection issues commonly associated with cell-based therapies. Another advantage is that dental pulp stem cell therapy may provide a treatment option available months or even years after the stroke has occurred,” she says.

Dr. Ellis and her colleagues, Professors Simon Koblar, David O’Carroll and Stan Gronthos, have been working on a laboratory-based model for to test potential treatments in humans. Ellis’ initial observations were part of this research venture, when she discovered that stem cells derived from teeth developed into cells that closely resembled neurons.

“We can do this by providing an environment for the cells that is as close to a normal brain environment as possible, so that instead of becoming cells for teeth they become brain cells,” Dr. Ellis says.

“What we developed wasn’t identical to normal neurons, but the new cells shared very similar properties to neurons. They also formed complex networks and communicated through simple electrical activity, like you might see between cells in the developing brain.”

This work with dental pulp stem cells opens up the potential for modelling many more common brain disorders in the laboratory. Such modeling systems could help in developing new treatments and diagnostic or therapeutic techniques for patients.