Treatment for Cancer

When most people think of stem cell therapy as cures for diseases like cancer and diabetes, they typically think of research that may lead to a cure for cancer sometime in the distant future. In reality, medicine has been using stem cells to fight cancer for decades. Many people don’t realize that when bone marrow is transplanted from a donor to a patient, what’s actually being transplanted are adult stem cells. That’s just the start of the ways that stem cell therapies can be used to fight – and possibly prevent – cancer. Here’s some of what the current research suggests about cancer and stem cell therapies.

Cancer-Killing Stem Cells

For some time, research has suggested that the best way to combat cancer is with the body’s own immune system. Now, researchers in Japan are one step closer to making that a reality. The Japanese researchers started with mature cancer-killing lymphocyte cells for a specific type of skin cancer and genetically modified them to revert them back to stem cells capable of growing into virtually any type of cell, similar to embryonic stem cells. From there, the scientists grew them back to functional T cells, the type that the body’s immune system makes to fight cancer. The new cells kept the same genetic structure of the original parent cells, and expressed the anti-tumor compound that fights that specific type of cancer. The next step will be to test whether the new T cells can kill cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.

Stem Cells May Help Fight Brain Cancer

Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive malignant brain tumor found in humans, a fact that millions of Americans learned as they followed the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s fight with the deadly disease. The traditional treatment for glioblastoma is surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but even with aggressive treatment, few patients live more than 18 months after diagnosis, in large part because the cancer cells for this type of cancer migrate across the entire brain to form new tumors. Recent research with mesenchymal stem cells – the type of stem cells that can be harvested from brain and fat tissue of any human – suggests a new way to find cancer cells that have migrated and target them with cancer-specific drugs and other treatments. If further studies confirm what the current research shows, it may soon be possible to take fat cells from brain cancer patients, extract stem cells and adapt them to carry drugs directly to the cancer cells, and re-inject them into the patient after surgery – or, eventually, instead of surgery – to hunt down cancer cells and kill them.

While these particular therapies are a few years off in the future, there are many treatment centers in the U.S. and around the world using stem cell therapies in fighting cancer today. These therapies include immune-boosting stem cell therapies and regenerative stem cell therapies that can help rejuvenate the system and repair and replace cells damaged by cancer.