Recent research from Johns Hopkins Medicine that received government support shows that stem cells isolated from a patient’s own fat may be able to deliver new treatments directly into the brain to fight an aggressive brain tumor. The work, done in the laboratory of Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, MD, is a proof-of-principle study that tests the ability of a particular type of stem cell, mesenchymal stem cells, to locate damaged or cancerous cells.
Cancer cells, particularly those in glioblastomas, the most common type of brain tumor, often break away from the main tumor and relocate to another area of the body. While neurosurgeons like Quinones-Hinojosa can carefully remove these tumors, radiation and chemotherapy are often insufficient to kill these run-away cancer cells. The promising results from this basic science study suggest that in the future, mesenchymal stem cells isolated from the patient’s own fat tissue can be modified and put back into the body to seek out and destroy isolated cancer cells in the brain after surgical removal of the tumor.
The lead author on the article, Courtney Pendleton, MD, contributed to this study during a clinical research rotation while completing her medical degree at Hopkins. Funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute allowed Pendleton and other scientists in the Quinones-Hinojosa lab to explore the potential of fat-derived stem cells as cancer killers. Pendleton, now a first year neurosurgery intern in a Philadelphia area hospital, said that both NIH and HHMI funding were vital to her research at Hopkins.
“I had access to equipment, postdoctoral fellows with years of expertise, and shared lab resources that were all a result of Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa’s many funded grants,” said Pendleton of the advantages of sustained NIH funding. Pendleton observed that “having HHMI research funding available as a medical student gave me the opportunity to design my own project, beginning from the ground up… The independence afforded by funding of my own gave me a better sense of the steps necessary to begin a fledgling research endeavor.”
Pendleton is one of the lucky few young scientists who have been able to obtain independent funding in this climate of flat-funding to the NIH, now worsened by sequestration. Sustained funding by the NIH is vital to keep medical research afloat and enable young scientists to conduct high risk-high reward research. This type of cutting edge research has the potential to translate into tomorrow’s cures.