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Stem Cells Could Shield the Body From Chemotherapy

Stem Cells Could Shield the Body From Chemotherapy

Could stem cells help us better cope with chemotherapy?

New research aims to utilize “stem cell shielding” to protect the body from the damaging effects of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs have the ability to kill relentless dividing cancer cells, but the adverse affects on healthy tissue and bone marrow can be devastating.

A team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, hope’s make cancer patients struggle more bearable by using genetically modified stem cells to protect the bone marrow. According to Cancer Research UK, this is a “completely new approach”.

The body constantly produces new blood cells in the hollow spaces within the bone, however bone marrow is extremely susceptible to chemotherapy. This results in fewer white blood cells, which in turn leads to an increased risk of infection, and fewer red blood cells, which can cause shortness of breath and tiredness.

bone marrow stem cells 550x413 Stem Cells Could Shield the Body From Chemotherapy

Bone Marrow Stem Cells Could Shield The Body from Effects of Chemotherapy

Image Credit: Chinmaya Mahapatra, 2011.

The team explained that the effects of chemotherapy often lead to the treatment being stopped, delayed, or reduced, and hopes that the new approach will provide a safe way to administer more chemotherapy, without creating more adverse side effects.

So far, they have tried to protect the bone marrow in three patients with a type of brain cancer, glioblastoma. One of the researchers, Dr Jennifer Adair, said:

“This therapy is analogous to firing at both tumor cells and bone marrow cells, but giving the bone marrow cells protective shields while the tumor cells are unshielded.” [BBC]

To protect the cells, stem cells were isolated from the patient’s own bone marrow. The cells were then infected with a virus, which contains a gene that shields the cells from chemotherapy. The cells were then injected back into the patient.

The lead author of the report, Prof Hans-Peter Kiem, said:

“We found that patients were able to tolerate the chemotherapy better, and without negative side effects, after transplantation of the gene-modified stem cells than patients in previous studies who received the same type of chemotherapy without a transplant of gene-modified stem cells.” [BBC]

Following the treatment, all three patients lived longer than the average survival time of 12 months, for that type of cancer. One patient stayed alive for 34 months.

Cancer Research UK scientist Prof Susan Short said:

“This is a very interesting study and a completely new approach to protecting normal cells during cancer treatment…

“It needs to be tested in more patients but it may mean that we can use temozolomide [a chemotherapy drug] for more brain tumor patients than we previously thought…

“This approach could also be a model for other situations where the bone marrow is affected by cancer treatment.” [BBC]

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  1. James Gallagher: Stem cell shield ‘could protect cancer patients’. BBC, 05/09/2012.

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