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Stem Cell Study Offers Hope for Targeting Tumors

In mice, genetically engineered cells killed cancer but spared healthy cells

TUESDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- Genetically engineered adult stem cells, armed with a cancer-killing protein, have proven successful at targeting several types of tumors while sparing healthy cells, new research has found.

Stem cells carrying TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) destroyed lung, squamous, breast and cervical cancer cells in laboratory cultures, according to British researchers. When tried on mice, the specialized cells shrunk subcutaneous breast tumors by about 80 percent, and when injected intravenously, they helped destroy about 38 percent of metastasized lung tumors in rodents.

The study results combined findings from two previous areas of research: one that found that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which come from bone marrow, can work as messengers to tumors cells, and another that found TRAIL effective at killing cancer while sparing healthy cells.

"This is the first study to demonstrate a significant reduction in tumor burden with inducible TRAIL-expressing MSCs in a well-controlled and specifically directed therapy," the authors, Dr. Michael Loebinger and Dr. Sam M. Janes of the Centre for Respiratory Research at the University College London, noted in a news release from the American Thoracic Society. The findings were to be presented Tuesday in San Diego at the society's International Conference.

Despite the success, the authors said it could be at least two years before these specialized stem cells are tried on people. Loebinger noted, for example, that while the MSCs seem to be naturally drawn to the cancer cells, the reasons for this are not fully understood.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, May 19, 2009

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