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February 25, 2024

Stem cells from fat may target brain cancer

By MEGAN JANG | March 28, 2013

Before you pack away the pounds in time for bikini weather, you might want to take a moment to thank your fat, for it may someday save your life. A new study found that stem cells derived from fat can be just as effective as stem cells derived from bone marrow in targeting and destroying cancer cells. And it’s not just any cancer, but the most common and aggressive human brain tumor — glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma is most feared for its ability to disperse cancer cells to remote areas of the brain, away from the central tumor. It can be resistant to the most common types of cancer treatment: surgical resection, radiation and chemotherapy. When the cancer cells migrate, they can create nests that are too small to detect but deadly enough to kill.

Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a professor at the Hopkins School of Medicine and a director and neurosurgeon at Hopkins Bayview Hospital, leads the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory at Hopkins Hospital. Earlier this March, Quinones and his team of researchers released a new study in which they investigated the potential of stem cells from patients’ own fat to fight migrating cancer cells.

“Every patient has a little fat somewhere,” Quinones said. “And this is exciting, why? Because we never think of fat as anything other than bad.”

Stem cells can track migrating cancer cells and are used to deliver treatment therapies directly to them. Scientists commonly use stem cells taken from bone marrow, but commercial bone marrow stem cells are difficult to extract, making it a dangerous process.

Taking stem cells from adipose tissue, or fat, is typically easier and safer. The process is less invasive and expensive than the process of extracting stem cells from bone marrow. There is also evidence that stem cells from fat are more resistant to malignant transformations that can occur in transplanted stem cells.

This new study doesn’t just explore the possibility of using stem cells from fat, but from fat taken from the patients themselves. Doctors like Quinones can be excited for possibility of moving beyond one-size-fits-all treatments for brain cancer.

“There is no shotgun approach for any given disease,” Quinones said. “[But typically] we use one treatment for everybody.”

Instead, this new approach of using the patients’ own fat cells could signal a future in personalized medicine where treatments are tailored to the patient, not just to the disease.

“You can treat [patients] as individuals rather than a whole group of people,” Quinones said.

Though a new solution to defeating glioblastoma is a huge breakthrough in itself, fat-derived stem cells hold the possibilities for so much more. Quinones explained that these stem cells have the ability to fight any kind of cancer, as well as neurodegenerative diseases, trauma injuries or damage from stroke.

“You have to be careful, you cannot oversell it,” Quinones said. “On the other hand… if you’re not excited about your own work no one else can get excited about it either.”


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