Stem cells ferry concentrated anti-cancer drug to tumors
WASHINGTON – Texas researchers say they have perfected a method to deliver cancer treatment directly into tumors, bypassing healthy tissue.
The study was done on mice, but human trials could begin soon, said Dr. Michael Andreeff, one author of the study in today’s issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The research team used the benefits of a known anti-cancer therapy, interferon beta, that can kill cancer cells. In practice, that therapy has proven problematic. It causes toxic side effects and its benefits disappear within minutes of patients getting their shots.
The research team worked around those problems by manipulating a certain type of stem cells to encode the interferon beta gene. The stem cells then move like guided missiles, targeting tumor cells and producing high concentrations of therapeutic proteins within the tumor cells, Andreeff said.
Besides taming toxic side effects, the cancer treatment stuck around in the tumor longer, he said in an interview.
Mice with human breast cancer treated with the engineered human stem cells survived for 60 days, according to the JNCI paper. Mice treated with interferon beta alone lived for 41 days. Untreated mice survived for 37 days. Meanwhile, mice with melanoma treated with the stem cells survived 73.5 days, compared with 30 days for untreated mice.
Andreeff said he’s working on a protocol for a clinical trial to test the procedure in humans within a year, if the Food and Drug Administration agrees. Patients would be infused with the stem-cell-delivered anti-cancer treatment four times a week, said Andreeff, a professor in the departments of blood and marrow transplantation and leukemia at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The targeted delivery of anticancer therapy to tumors builds on what researchers already know about how wounds heal.