A ‘language’ that causes tumors has been identified. This is a big problem for stem cell therapies, so could we now overcome it?
Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, have spotted conversations between stem cells that controls the cells around them. The research published in Nature Communications suggests that this could be responsible for tumor formation. It is hoped that by understanding the mechanisms underlying this process, it can be stopped and the therapeutic use of pluripotent stem cells can become a lot safer.
The group saw that human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) release signal proteins that activate the cells around them. These cells then migrate and invade other parts of the body. Although controlled invasion is a natural process, its deregulation is a hallmark of cancer. Therefore, when the stem cells take control, it is not good news.
The activation of a particular protein, mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1), was implicated in abnormal cell activity. mTORC1 activates the production of proteins, which is required for cell growth and proliferation. But, the group also believes that stem cells can manipulate this process and attract normal cells to begin tumor formation.
This information could be just what is needed to overcome tumor formation by hPSCs, making their use in the clinic much safer. Tumor formation is currently a major concern when using stem cells. The cancer stem cell theory hypothesizes that stem cells can become cancerous by collecting mutations in their DNA as they proliferate freely. News of Harvard scientists finding stem cells containing cancerous mutations being used in clinical trials will not have helped to calm these fears.
The regenerative properties of stem cells could be key to treating conditions, such as heart failure and Alzheimer’s, that are currently without hope. Earlier this year, TiGenix’s allogeneic cardiac stem cell therapy reduced infarct size and demonstrated safety in Phase I/II trials. ReNeuron has developed an off-the-shelf neural stem cell line, CTX, which significantly reduced disability in post-stroke patients in a Phase II trial.
The findings of this study give us a target to beat one of the main concerns associated with stem cell therapies. If a technique to control the tumor-forming capacity of stem cells can be developed, stem cell therapies would take a big step towards the clinic.
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