Stem cell shield may protect body from chemotherapy side effects

(Stem Cells News image)

Washington State University researchers provided computer analyses for a new gene therapy study published in Science Translational Medicine.

The study – conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and published May 9 – found stem cell gene therapy could protect blood cells from damage by chemotherapy in patients suffering from glioblastoma (malignant brain tumors), thereby extending life expectancy.

The WSU laboratory of co-author Grant D. Trobridge, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, developed bioinformatics software that aided the Fred Hutchinson researchers in evaluating the safety of the procedure. The approach was to remove blood stem cells, add a gene that shields them from chemotherapy used to treat the brain tumor, and then reintroduce these protected stem cells.

Trobridge noted the co-lead authors of the Fred Hutchinson study both received their Ph.D.s at WSU – Jennifer Adair in 2005 and Brian Beard in 2003 – in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Both now work at Fred Hutchinson in the laboratory of Hans-Peter Kiem, who was senior author on the paper.


A new study suggests stem cells may be able to act as a ‘shield’ to protect the body from the harmful side effects of chemotherapy, the BBC News reported.

As chemotherapy drugs attempt to kill cancer drugs, they can also affect the bone marrow and other healthy tissues.

In a new study, however, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle were able to use genetically modified stem cells to protect the bone marrow.

The bone marrow is very susceptible to chemotherapy, and in response to the treatment, produces less blood cells. This leaves the body more prone to infection and fatigue.

Stem cell shielding appeared to stave off some of these negative side effects. Researchers took bone marrow from patients with brain cancer and isolated the stem cells. They infected the cells with a virus which carried a gene to protect the cells against a chemotherapy drug, and then re-implanted the cells into the patients.

“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,” Professor Hans-Peter Kiem told the BBC News.

All three patients lived longer than the average survival time of 12 months. One patient was still alive 34 months after treatment, according to the BBC.