Researchers turned skin cells into stem cells to fight brain cancer

For the first time, scientists have turned skin cells into stem cells that destroy brain tumors known as glioblastoma. This progress could offer for the first time a new and more effective treatment for this deadly disease.

The survival rate beyond two years for a patient with glioblastoma is 30 percent because it is so difficult to treat. Even if a surgeon removes most of the tumor, it is almost impossible to remove the cancerous cells that are deep inside the brain which inevitably reappear the tumor. Most patients die within one and a half years of diagnosis.

Researchers believe that developing a new personalized treatment of glioblastoma starting from the patient’s own skin cells could improve these statistics in order to get rid of the cancer cells that remain deep in the brain, essentially killing glioblastoma.

In their new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers have “reprogrammed” skin cells known as fibroblasts, which produce collagen and connective tissue, to become stem cells. Working with mice, researchers have shown that these stem cells have an innate ability to move around the brain, finding and killing all other cancer cells.

Researchers also showed that stem cells could be modified to produce a protein that also destroys cancer cells, adding yet another hit to cancer.

Depending on the type of tumor, the researchers increased the survival time of the mice to 160 to 220 percent. The next steps, according to the researchers, are focusing on human stem cells and testing more effective cancer drugs that could be placed inside the stem cells themselves.