In laboratory studies, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have found that stem cells from a patient's own fat may have the potential to deliver new treatments directly into the brain after the surgical removal of a glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor.
The investigators say so-called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have an unexplained ability to seek out damaged cells, such as those involved in cancer, and may provide clinicians a new tool for accessing difficult-to-reach parts of the brain where cancer cells can hide and proliferate anew. The researchers say harvesting MSCs from fat is less invasive and less expensive than getting them from bone marrow, a more commonly studied method.
Results of the Johns Hopkins proof-of-principle study are described online in the journal PLOS ONE.
"The biggest challenge in brain cancer is the migration of cancer cells. Even when we remove the tumor, some of the cells have already slipped away and are causing damage somewhere else," says study leader Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D., a professor of neurosurgery, oncology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Building off our findings, we may be able to find a way to arm a patient's own healthy cells with the treatment needed to chase down those cancer cells and destroy them. It's truly personalized medicine."
For their test-tube experiments, Quinones-Hinojosa and his colleagues bought human MSCs derived from both fat and bone marrow, and also isolated and grew their own stem cell lines from fat removed from two patients. Comparing the three cell lines, they discovered that all proliferated, migrated, stayed alive and kept their potential as stem cells equally well.
This was an important finding, Quinones-Hinojosa says, because it suggests that a patient's own fat cells might work as well as any to create cancer-fighting cells. The MSCs, with their ability to home in on cancer cells, might be able to act as a delivery mechanism, bringing drugs, nanoparticles or some other treatment directly to the cells. Quinones-Hinojosa cautions that while further studies are under way, it will be years before human trials of MSC delivery systems can begin.