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Study: Pancreatic cancer tests may lead to stem cell therapies

Category: Organ Specific Testing

Scientists have developed a bioengineered treatment that may be able to destroy pancreatic cancer cells while leaving healthy tissues undisturbed, research suggests.

The researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, led by Dr Claudius Conrad, generated a treatment whereby mesenchymal stem cells found in bone marrow and a gene product toxic to tumor development cooperate to repress tumor activity.

The bioengineered method, dubbed the Trojan Horse, exploits the fact that cancer cells need stem cells to maintain their rapid growth rates. The cancer cells recruit the mesenchymal stem cells, which in turn, produce a toxic gene product.

Chemotherapy, currently the most common treatment of late state pancreatic cancer, causes side effects like bowel damage, hair loss, diarrhea and nausea. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 43,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and 35,000 people die from the disease.

"We developed our concept of using stem cells to target tumor cells because the homing drive of aggressive tumors like pancreatic cancer is so strong that genetically engineered stem cells can help destroy the tumor," Conrad explained.

Further laboratory tests on animals affirm that the Trojan Horse effectively kills cancer cells with minimal side effects.

Returns of stem cell research

Though the methods of retrieving human stem cells have been a controversial topic, new studies are showing that the benefits of stem cell therapy are anything but contentious. Various research teams, in fact, have begun developing medical stem cell treatments which have proven successful in repairing hearts, bones and eye tissue.

HealthDay News reported last week that scientists from Duke University were able to create a patch of cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle stem cells, that developed a tissue which, like heart muscles, had the ability to contract and conduct electrical impulses in lab testing.

Furthermore, researchers from Columbia University became the first time to create a complex, full-sized bone from human adult stem cells last week when the produced the temporomandibular joint, or jaw bone.

Lead researcher, Dr Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic indicated the possibility of producing other head and neck bones with these methods telling BBC reporters, "We thought the jawbone would be the most rigorous test of our technique; if you can make this, you can make any shape."

The latest achievement in stem cell research came from the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, where researchers transplanted pigmented visual cells from human embryonic stem cells to offset the effects of retinal degeneration in animals.

While evidence suggests stem cell research may be useful in curbing degenerative disorders, in the meantime doctors recommend lab tests, like cancer testing to provide the best defense against diseases by helping patients identify their disorder. For example, the National Cancer Institute reports that MRI scans detected more than 90 percent of breast cancer cases that were missed in clinical exams.

Avenues for advancement

Recognizing the valuable advancements the researchers have made to the medical field, one of the National Institutes of Health has awarded $170 million to 18 research teams to fund the development of stem cell techniques and therapies.

"NHLBI is committed to stimulating stem cell research that will lead to the development of regenerative therapies" said NHLBI director Dr Elizabeth Nabel. "Important gaps remain in our understanding of stem cells, and this consortium holds great promise to expand our knowledge and uncover therapeutic applications of great public impact."

Involved health officials hope the research teams will work out techniques to direct the stem cells to develop into desired tissue cells and produce strategies for overcoming the challenges of cell transplantation.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order stating that the Secretary of Health and Human Services may support responsible stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law.

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