Stem cells are remarkable because you can genetically modify them to suit your needs. In a recent study that was published in Science Translational Medicine, a group of researchers has genetically modified Mesenchymal Stem Cells to harness their ability to sense their outside conditions and so that they can deliver anti-cancer medications to those cells that are infected.
A group of scientists at the University of California, Irvine, said that they used mice as the subjects and using this modified version of the adult stem cell helped reduce the damage from the drug that was produced by the cells to the tissue that was not affected by the cancer agents.
According to Weian Zhao, stiffness can be used as a biomarker and that may persist in the body for so many years- making it difficult for cancer to create resistances to drugs and other medications.
It was believed that stem cells can turn into whatever cell that is needed by the body at any given moment. This made Zhao and his team create observations based on biophysical cues. They’ve observed that stem cells have the inherent ability to detect the stiffness of their environments and would then change their manner in a way to adapt to current conditions.
Because they’ve seen that stem cells do adapt to whatever environmental conditions they’re in, Zhao and his team modified human MSC genomes by putting a promoter- which will activate the cells when it senses a change in outside pressure- using an upstream from a gene for the enzyme cytosine deaminase, which will convert the anticancer medication known as 5-fluorocytosine to its potent state.
After doing such, the modified cells are then injected into some mice with induced breast tumors that have spread towards their lungs. After 24 hours, Zhao injected the mice with 5-fluorocytosine and he would continue doing this for a period of 7 days.
The findings were astounding in that his team found no apparent damage to the mice’s lungs, but instead, the lungs were actually healed from cancer. This made Zhao realize that the stem cells that detected the tumor would just target that instead of healthy tissues surrounding the affected organ/tissue.
Because of this remarkable finding, Zhao has filed a patent for the technique and hopes that he will commercialize it through a startup foundation that he founded.
Not the First One
The use of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in delivering anticancer medications is actually not a new thing. The first ever study was published in 2002. However, the method that Zhao used was actually the first of its kind in that he was the one who revolutionized the use of biophysical cues in order to pinpoint the exact location to where the anticancer medication should be dropped.
Frank Marini, a cancer researcher at the Wake Forest University, said that this technique could actually have a lot of potential uses aside from utilizing it to kill some forms of cancers.