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18 Mar 2015
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Stem Cells Kill Cancer: New Cell-Gene Therapy Gets Clinical Trial in UK

The scientists from University College London (UCL) have created a new stem cell therapy to combat lung cancer in UK patients. The therapy gets a nod from Medical Research Council (MRC) for human clinical trials with a funding of £ 2M from UK’s Biomedical Catalyst managed by MRC and Innovative UK.

Every year, lung cancer kills around 34,000 people in UK as it is very difficult to detect and treat the affected patients. According to the principal investigator Sam Janes, lung cancer spreads fast to other parts of the body before showing obvious symptoms. Chemotherapy is a standard treatment for lung cancer which spreads toxic effect to normal cells and the patients who undergo this therapy do not survive more than a handful of months.

To overcome this, the researchers at UCL pioneered a therapy in which stem cells are used as a vehicle to carry the anti-cancer gene that has the potential to induce a self destructing pathway in cancer cells. This way, the cancer cells will be destroyed in the body without harming the normal cells. Based on early test results in animal models, it is clear that this treatment can significantly reduce the presence of cancer cells and in some cases, clear tumors.

In this highly targeted stem cell therapy, bone marrow stem cells are extracted and modified using genetic engineering to express the anti cancer gene, TRAIL (Tumor Necrosis Factor related Apoptosis- Inducing Ligand). Being enclosed inside the cells, the genetic material is safe from degradation and when it reaches the target, it can trigger a signaling pathway that kills the cancer cells effectively. This procedure will be performed shortly after a chemotherapy session for the patients. As the strategy showed positive results in mice model, UK Medical Research Council granted human trials.

According to researchers, the new trial will begin with healthy volunteers to ensure the safety of the treatment, followed by treating 56 lung cancer patients to check the efficacy of the genetically modified stem cell therapy combined with chemotherapy compared to the standard treatment procedure. Each patient will receive almost billion stem cells through 3 transfusions with 3-week interval between each. Over the next 3 years, Royal Free Hospital is expected to create 100 billion stem cells for the treatment. The key advantage of this therapy is that the cells do not require a close match like sibling or tissue match for the transplant. As they have relatively few surface proteins, they do not cause an immune response in the patients, even if the transplant comes from an unrelated donor.

Principal investigator Sam Janes said, “We aim to improve prospects for lung cancer patients by using a highly targeted stem cell therapy… If clinical trials are successful, out treatment could be transformative for the treatment of lung cancer, and possibly other types of tumor in future.” If the trials show positive outcome, millions of lung cancer patients across the world would be benefited through this advanced gene/cell therapy.

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