How to cure cancer using stem cells

(Stem Cells News image)

Historic Hurd Hall on Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore campus was filled to capacity on Jan. 13 with students, faculty and staff waiting to hear five scientists—all in the early part of their careers—describe their novel ideas on how to cure metastatic cancer.

The five were finalists, chosen from among 44 entrants, in a competition on creative thinking named for John Rangos Sr., chairman of the Rangos Family Foundation, who funded the awards. Each scientist had 10 minutes to present his or her idea and answer questions from a panel of faculty judges, who would select the winners based on the novelty and scientific merit of their ideas, as well as the feasibility of future clinical applications of their proposals (…)

First up to the podium was medical oncology fellow and eventual fifth-place winner Kevin Cheung, who proposes turning back the clock on cancer cells by reprogramming them into germ cells. He suggests that the reason testicular and other germ cell tumors have high cure rates is because of their undifferentiated state. Just as scientists have created immature pluripotent stem cells from adult cells, Cheung says that the same could be done with cancer cells. By age reversing resistant cancer cells, he proposes to make them sensitive to conventional chemotherapy (…)

The overall prize went to radiation oncology resident Sharabi for his idea titled “Specific Immune Response Against Testicular Cancer: A Proposed Mechanism for Long-Term Remission.”

Sharabi suggests that metastatic testicular cancer is largely curable in most patients because immune cells zero in on testicular cancer cells with far more accuracy than they do in other cancers. He proposes that testicular cells are essentially recognized as foreign to the immune system because the testes are protected by the so-called blood-testis barrier, much like the blood-brain barrier. Testicular cancer cells can spread to the rest of the body and may initially go undetected by immune system cells. However, he says he believes that chemotherapy given to patients causes testicular cancer cells to die, releasing many targets for the immune cells. At that time, the immune system kicks into high gear, generating large numbers of circulating immune cells, whose task is to seek the testicular cancer cells and destroy them. He also believes that after chemotherapy, testicular cancer cells essentially may be recognized as foreign by the immune cells because the blood-testis barrier had, until then, kept testicular cells hidden from the immune system.

He proposes further investigations of how the immune system responds to testicular cancer cells to identify specific immune system targets common to testicular cancer as well as other types of cancer. The research could lead to the development of vaccines that prime the body to defend against and fight cancers.

Just before Sharabi was announced the top winner, Rangos called Johns Hopkins a “beacon of light in the measurement of medicine.” It is here, he said, that we’ll find the next generation of scientific leaders.

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