Research ArticleCancer

Neural Stem Cell–Mediated Enzyme/Prodrug Therapy for Glioma: Preclinical Studies

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Science Translational Medicine  08 May 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 184, pp. 184ra59
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005365

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Cellular Assassins

Derived from the supporting cells of the brain, gliomas are deadly tumors that can be only temporarily held at bay, but not cured. New ways to treat these cancers are needed. To get regulatory approval to test a new stem cell–based therapy in patients, Aboody et al. performed a series of preclinical experiments in mice with artificially implanted gliomas in their brains. By mimicking closely the treatments that they hoped to perform in humans, these authors were able to show to the satisfaction of the regulatory agency that the treatment was safe and effective enough in the mice to warrant a first-in-human trial in patients.

The authors used a neural stem cell line carrying a v-myc gene and a gene for cytosine deaminase. These cells exhibit tropism to human glioma cells. When injected into mice with gliomas, they migrate to the site of the tumor, even when the mice are treated with steroids or radiation, as might be the case for human patients. The cytosine deaminase in the cells provides another anticancer weapon. This enzyme converts the prodrug 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC) to the toxic 5-flurouracil (5-FU), delivering a high concentration of the therapeutic agent directly in and around the tumor and causing it to shrink significantly.

Injection of excess numbers of cells or increasing the dose of 5-FU did not result in any abnormalities in the animals; in fact, by 12 weeks after injection, no cells were to be seen in the brain or elsewhere, even when a highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction method was used to look for the v-myc DNA.

This targeted cell-based approach to cancer therapy that concentrates the therapeutic agent in the vicinity of the tumor is expected to reduce toxicity to other tissues. Thus, a higher local dose is possible, potentially improving efficacy against the tumor. The phase 1 trial derived from these preclinical results is ongoing; its end will allow evaluation of how well these preclinical in vivo studies set the stage for humans.

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