Cancer Hunting Stem CellsResearchers out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have just concluded a study in which they have been able to convert human skin cells into cancer hunting stem cells that can target glioblastoma brain tumors. Of course, the landmark study could pave the way for more cancer treatments in the future.

Glioblastomas are aggressive and fast-growing tumors which form something called astrocytes, which are cells that make up the brain’s supportive tissue. Astrocytes typically reproduce quickly, and since they require support from a large network of blood vessels, they can be deadly. The condition is rare, though, so it can be difficult to treat, as described by the American Brain Tumor Association.

In the study, researchers basically extracted skin cells and then “reprogrammed them.”

The study authors describe: “We find that [induced neural stem cells] iNSCs genetically engineered with optical reporters and tumoricidal gene products retain the capacity to differentiate and induced apoptosis in co-cultured human glioblastoma cells. Time-lapse imaging shows that iNSCs are tumoritropic, homing rapidly to co-cultured glioblastoma cells and migrating extensively to distant tumor foci in the murine brain.”

In laymen’s terms, of course, this just means that they found the engineered stem cells could perform beneficial functions. They found that, depending on the tumor type this technique could increase survival times in mice by as much as 160 to 220 percent.

As such, UNC assistant professor Dr. Shawn Hingtgen comments, “Our work represents the newest evolution of the stem-cell technology that won the Nobel Prize in 2012,” Dr. Hingtgen explained. “We wanted to find out if these induced neural stem cells would home in on cancer cells and whether they could be used to deliver a therapeutic agent. This is the first time this direct reprogramming technology has been used to treat cancer.”

The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Communications, in an article entitled “Therapeutically engineered induced neural stem cells are tumour-homing and inhibit progression of glioblastoma.”