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Surprising Science

Stem Cells Help Shield Cancer Patients

A new approach to cancer treatment involves extracting a patient’s bone marrow and then infecting it with a virus which carries a genetic immunity to certain chemotherapy drugs. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Using a completely new approach to cancer treatment, British scientists have used stem cells to shield the body’s bone marrow, which is especially vulnerable to chemotherapy, against the indiscriminate treatment. As a result of chemotherapy, a patient’s bone marrow will produce fewer white and red blood cells, increasing the risk of infection while causing fatigue. In the medical trial, “bone marrow was taken from the patients and stem cells, which produce blood, were isolated. A virus was then used to infect the cells with a gene which protected the cells against a chemotherapy drug. The cells were then put back into the patient.” 

What’s the Big Idea?

Because of chemotherapy’s harmful effects on healthy cells elsewhere in the body, the treatment is often scaled back, delayed or stopped all together, allowing the cancer to spread again. The new stem cell approach “is analogous to firing at both tumour cells and bone marrow cells, but giving the bone marrow cells protective shields while the tumour cells are unshielded,” said Dr. Jennifer Adair, one of the study’s lead researchers. The therapy needs to be tested on larger populations but scientists are hopeful that it will allow for the use of chemotherapy in more brain tumor patients. 

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