A team of researchers at UC Irvine have developed a new stem cell treatment that has been shown to be effective at treating cancer metastases in mice.
The researchers used stem cells from bone marrow and combined them with targeting agents that drive the stem cells to metastatic sites where new malignant tumors have formed.
“What’s powerful about this strategy is that we deliver a combination of both anti-tumor and anti-bone resorption agents so we can effectively block the vicious circle between cancers and their bone niche,” said Weian Zhao, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering at UC Irvine and lead author of the study.
Chemotherapy can be effective at treating cancer, but the highly toxic chemicals used in the treatment can cause major side effects and long-term health issues. The high doses required to treat bone cancer are such that patients would be most likely to die from the side effects of the treatment before the bone cancer is eradicated.
The UC Irvine method is non-invasive and virtually non-toxic, so many of the problems associated with chemotherapy can be avoided.
Targeting metastases can be very difficult or even impossible. New tumors are very small and are difficult to detect in the early stages of growth when treatment is likely to be most effective. The UC Irvine method avoids this problem, as the stem cells have been engineered to travel round the body and identify the tumors, even if it is not yet possible for them to be identified from imaging scans.
The researchers tested their new treatment on a breast cancer mouse model where the cancer had metastasized to the bone. The smart therapeutic vectors ensured the treatment was highly targeted and the treatment was effective in mice.
The researchers have yet to use their technique on humans, but they are currently trying to get FDA approval to use their technique with mesenchymal stem cells as a potential new, safer treatment for cancers that have metastasized in humans.