Results from a US trial show that stem cell therapy may protect the body from damaging results of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy drugs try to kill rapidly dividing cancer cells, but they can also affect other healthy tissues such as bone marrow.
Chemotherapy can cause significant damage to healthy bone marrow
Damage to bone marrow can result in the production of fewer white blood cells- leading to an increased risk of infection- and fewer red blood cells, leading to shortness of breath and tiredness.
These effects are a major barrier to using chemotherapy, and often mean that the treatment has to be stopped, delayed or reduced.
However, a study in Science Translational Medicine has shown that it may be possible to use ‘stem cell shielding’ to protect the bone marrow from the damaging effects of chemotherapy.
Cancer Research UK said it was a “completely new approach”.
Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tried to protect the bone marrow in three patients with glioblastoma, a particular type of brain cancer.
Bone marrow was taken from the three patients and stem cells were isolated. A virus was used to infect the cells against a chemotherapy drug, and the cells were then put back into the patient.
The three patients all lived longer than the average survival time of 12 months for glioblastoma, and one patient was still alive 34 months after treatment.
The lead author of the report, Prof Hans-Peter Kiem, said: "We found that patients were able to tolerate the chemotherapy better, and without negative side effects, after transplantation of the gene-modified stem cells than patients in previous studies who received the same type of chemotherapy without a transplant of gene-modified stem cells."
Cancer Research UK scientist Prof Susan Short said:
"This approach could also be a model for other situations where the bone marrow is affected by cancer treatment."
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