In a series of successful experiments conducted at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, researchers have found the Stem Cells can be used as a Cancer fighting tools for Glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. Glioblastoma is one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer, with the average time of survival for a patient less than 18 months. Currently, the only options of treatment are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. These methods have proven to be generally unsuccessful and the chance of survival beyond 2 years is a meagre 30 percent. The study looks to provide an alternative solution to the otherwise grim state of things and according to the findings of the researchers, the solution lies in stem cells.
The experiments involved a revolutionary process in which normal skin cells called fibroblasts, found in abundance and all over the body are converted into Nerve Stem Cells. The skin exfoliates and regenerates constantly without us being aware of it. This regenerative capacity is due to stem cells. In the experiment, researchers introduced these skin cells to newly discovered proteins called transition factors. These proteins act like a computer code and reprogram the simple skin cells into completely functional nerve stem cells. These reprogrammed stem cells are called Induced Neural Stem Cells and they possess the innate ability to hone in on cancer cells.
Traditional treatment methods have not succeeded on a great scale because (a) the treatment’s effects are contained to the cancer cells alone and the patient suffers side effects and (b) the treatment is unable to reach and destroy all traces of the cancer cells causing an almost certain relapse. Using this ability to hunt down cancer cells, the researchers want to eliminate the above mentioned issues and have devised a plan to deliver cancer killings drugs using these nerve stem cells. Such a treatment would highly effective because the treatment is highly contained and very specifically directed and these stem cells would have the ability to locate the smallest and faintest traces of the cancer and elongate lifespans.
A patient undergoing this treatment would be given a prodrug, a medicine that remains inert and inactive in the patient’s bloodstream and can be activated only when triggered. These nerve stem cells are programmed to carry these triggers which will help combat cancer from the very root of the problem.
Results from these experiments showed that there was a 160 to 22 percent reduction in the size of the tumour post the procedure. The department of Neuropathology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill led by Dr. Shawn Hingtgen are satisfied that the results obtained from these tests are conclusive enough and are so promising that a practical and feasible cure is a temptingly close which is good news for the those affected by Glioblastoma.
In cases like Glioblastoma, speed and time are of essence. This treatment solves that particular issue as well. The process of converting skin cells to nerve stem cells, called ‘Skin Flipping’, takes only a few days. The process is also relatively easy and thus researchers are looking expectant that this could change the face of the fight against cancer and that the answer to cancer is inside us indeed.