US scientists engineer stem cells capable of killing cancer

cells killed cancer cells by secreting toxins, without harming healthy cells

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 27 October 2014

Scientists in the United States have developed stem cells that are able to kill brain tumours in mice by secreting toxins, according to a new study.


The study, the findings of which have been published in the latest edition of the journal ‘Stem Cell’, reveals how a team of scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) had, for many years, been researching on a stem-cell-based therapy for cancer, which would kill only tumour cells.

The team engineered stem cells that would only attack cancerous cells with their toxins and would leave healthy ones untouched.

In tests on mice, the researchers placed the stem cells in a gel, on the site of tumours after removing them.

The cells secreted toxins which destroyed the cancer cells and did not touch healthy ones, besides the stem cells themselves.

"After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumours, we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells,” Khalid Shah, lead author and director of the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was quoted as saying in a BBC report.

He added: "Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don't work as well in solid tumours because the cancers aren't as accessible and the toxins have a short half-life."

But genetically engineering stem cells had changed all that, he said.

"Now, we have toxin-resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs."

The BBC report said that Shah now planned to test the technique using a number of different therapies on mice with glioblastoma, the most common brain tumour in human adults.

Shah, the report added, hopes the therapies could be used in clinical trials within the next five years.

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