Stem cells are the earliest form of a cell and are capable of self-regeneration. They have the potential to become any cell or tissue type. Stem cells have many of the same surface antigens as cancer cells do, and that could make them an ideal candidate for immune-boosting cancer therapies. Stanford researchers believe their use in battling and defeating disease processes is still just touching the tip of the iceberg. This article represents yet another breakthrough at Stanford University with a real potential life saving cancer therapy using stem cells.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have the power to transform into any cell in the body, making them a prime candidate for regenerative medicine. But can they also teach the immune system to recognize and attack cancer?
Scientists at Stanford University believe iPSCs can do just that—and they tested the concept in mouse models of breast cancer. When they injected mice with inactivated IPSCs, the animals’ immune systems launched an attack against cancer and prevented relapse after tumors had been removed, according to a press release from the university. The study was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
The Stanford researchers used cells from each of the 75 mice in the study to create an iPSC vaccine that targeted several tumor “antigens,” which are markers on the surface of cells that immunotherapies target. The scientists discovered that many antigens on iPSCs are also present on tumor cells, so they were able to use whole iPSCs rather than having to pick a single antigen to target.
Four weeks after the mice received injections of the cells, 70% of the animals did not develop tumors after breast cancer cells were injected into them. The other 30% developed small tumors, according to a statement from Cell Press.
"When we immunized an animal with genetically matching iPS cells, the immune system could be primed to reject the development of tumors in the future,” said senior author Joseph Wu, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of Stanford's Cardiovascular Institute, in a separate statement. “Pending replication in humans, our findings indicate these cells may one day serve as a true patient-specific cancer vaccine."
Here’s how it might work in people: Cells taken from a patient’s skin or blood would be reprogrammed into iPSCs and then injected, perhaps after surgery, chemotherapy or another cancer treatment.
The publication of iPSC study comes on the heels of another study out of Stanford involving a different type of cancer vaccine. In the journal Science Translational Medicine, a team from the school reported progress combining a short stretch of DNA with an antibody to prime the immune system to launch attacks against several tumor types. Stanford is planning a clinical trial of that vaccine in 15 patients with lymphoma.
In December, researchers at the University of California in San Francisco started a trial of a therapeutic cancer vaccine that targets misshapen proteins on the surface of brain cancer cells.
The next step for Stanford’s iPSC researchers will be to test their vaccines in samples of human cancers, Wu said.
"What surprised us most was the effectiveness of the iPSC vaccine in reactivating the immune system to target cancer," he said in the statement from Cell Press. "This approach may have clinical potential to prevent tumor recurrence or target distant metastases."
COMMENT: If the researchers at Stanford can identify the profound impact stem cells can have on cancer treatment by stimulating an immune response to fight cancer, why can't we use stem cells harvested from our own bodies In the most efficacious manner? The United States arguably provides the most advanced healthcare in the world, or likes to believe that anyhow. These researchers at Stanford support the idea we can do it when we try.
Stem cells are clearly capable of self-regeneration. They have the potential to become any cell or tissue type. They can be can transformed into a variety of tissue types, including nerve cells, muscle cells, blood, and bone. And, they can be extracted from our own bodies. When your adult stem cells are harvested and re-injected, this is known as an “autologous” stem cell transplant. But, to achieve the most effective“autologous” stem cell transplant therapy, you still have to travel to another country. Why is that?
It has nothing to do with President Bush’s restrictions and all the debate on the funding of embryonic stem cell research. On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order restricting federally funded stem cell research on embryonic stem cells to the already derived and existing very limited cell lines. On July 18, 2006, the U.S. Senate passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810. On July 19, 2006, President Bush vetoed House Resolution 810, Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, a bill that would have reversed the Dickey Amendment, which made it illegal for federal money to be used for research where stem cells are derived from the destruction of an embryo. On January 23, 2009, the FDA finally approved clinical trials for human embryonic stem cell therapy. On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order reversing federal opposition to embryonic stem cell research.
Embryonic stem cell research has over the years raised a number of issues – personal, ethical, moral, political, and legal - though embryonic stem cells have been shown to achieve incredible, mind-blowing outcomes. One alternative to the ethical dilemma with embryonic stem cells are Placental Matrix-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs),which can similarly transform into a variety of tissue types, including nerve and muscle cells, as well as blood and bone cells. MSCs are derived from placental tissue called the chorion. Cells of the chorion are derived from the fetal mesoderm, which is responsible in forming our musculoskeletal and connective tissue, bone, ligament, tendon, and muscle. MSCs are harvested from the placentas of normal deliveries with the voluntary consent of the mother having been properly screened.
MSCs do not have the limitations of an individual’s own stem cells nor the ethical issues of embryonic stem cells. The body’s immune system is unable to recognize placenta derived MSCs as foreign, therefore, they are immune privileged and are not rejected, and are easily accessible. Stem cell outcomes are such that it will not be uncommon for parents to harvest and “bank” the stem cells of their newborns, particularly, placenta-derived MSCs, to be used as necessary in the future. But, there may still be a fear of concern over screening that would not occur as frequently with our own personal cells being harvested.
So why can't we use something with which we are more comfortable personally? Traveling offshore for “autologous” stem cell transplant therapy is tied solely to the FDA and its categorization of an autologous stem cell transplant as a "drug" subject to the same lengthy, expensive, and rigorous trials a new drug goes through to achieve a new drug application (NDA) to ultimately reach the market often times many years later. The FDA says this includes any stem-cell–based product containing cells that “are highly processed, are used for other than their normal function, are combined with non-tissue components, or are used for metabolic purposes.”
Because stem cells are removed from your body and processed in an effort to stimulate growth, the FDA considers it a drug. But, the stem cells come from your body, so does that make any sense? And, how does the FDA regulate what you can extract and harvest from your own body and re-inject, particularly, since the research shows “autologous” stem cell transplant works in a variety of disease processes and conditions. This is you taking your own cells to treat a degenerative disease, injury, muscular disease, or similar process without the need for long-term expensive pharmacologic medications, many of which are addictive, and without the need for surgery. As we age, we all experience a decrease in regenerative stem cells, but most people still have plenty available to do the job – and they are ours.
In the United States, stem cells can be harvested, for example, from the bone marrow and injected straight back into the patient without FDA regulation. But, the cells cannot be incubated, manipulated, processed, or provided any outside source to assist them in growing and strengthening. This can be minimally effective, but not anywhere near as effective as when you are allowed to harvest, incubate as long as necessary, process, and then re-inject your own cells. Research and results have demonstrated far more significant outcomes when your cells can be harvested, incubated, and processed before being re-injected, Having your cells extracted and then immediately re-injected will do very little for musculoskeletal and connective tissue, bone, ligament, tendon, and muscle degenerative issues that many would like help for. Thus, Americans are going to continue to travel offshore to get the most efficacious treatment using their own stem cells.
Just as significantly, there has been a proliferation of stem cell clinics, making all types of unsubstantiated claims, while also claiming to fit within the parameters of the current state of the law in the United States. Patients may believe they can avoid “stem cell tourism” by driving only a few minutes from metropolitan areas across the U.S., but the efficacy of treatment in most instances remains questionable.
Research is continuing to demonstrate in many arenas the efficacy of stem cell therapy, including this recent research at Stanford University that holds hope for cancer treatment. But, people are dying and suffering while whatever is done waits on the FDA and its bureaucratic, political, expensive, and lengthy process. Hopefully, the FDA will one day catch-up, but I’m not holding my breath.