Brain tumor research: 3 foundations back neural stem cell work

February 18, 2014 | by

Despite gradual improvements over the years, brain tumors remain particularly tricky to treat. Treatment can affect normal brain tissue, which can cause physical and cognitive impairment. One particularly challenging obstacle is the blood-brain barrier, which prevents cancer drugs from passing into the brain and attacking the tumor. Gutova is an assistant research professor of neurosciences . She may have found a way to get through that barrier — using neural stem cells.

But Margarita Gutova, M.D., assistant research professor in the laboratory of Karen Aboody, M.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences and the Division of Neurosurgery, in collaboration with Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D., director of the tumor initiation and maintenance program at Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute, may have found a way to bypass this barrier using neural stem cells — self-renewing cells that can later differentiate into neurons and other nervous system cells.

“Neural stem cells offer a novel way to overcome this obstacle because they can cross the blood-brain barrier and selectively target tumor cells throughout the brain,” Gutova said.

In this visualization, neural stem cells (red) are gathering around the brain tumor cells (green), showing its potential to selectively deliver treatment at the tumor site.

In this visualization, neural stem cells (red) gather around the brain tumor cells (green), showing the potential to selectively deliver treatment at the tumor site.

In the video above, Gutova explained how this ability can be harnessed to help treat brain tumors. Used as a delivery vehicle, neural stem cells can be engineered to target and deliver anti-cancer agents specifically to brain tumor sites. This method results in concentrated therapy at the tumor sites, while minimizing harm to surrounding normal tissue.

Additionally, Gutova is investigating whether the neural stem cells can be delivered intranasally, or through the nostrils and nasal cavity. This novel delivery method, if proven effective, is much less invasive, and could reduce the number of complicated procedures — and their associated risks — that these young patients must often endure.

So far the results have been promising, and five foundations — including Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and Matthew Larson Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation — have announced grants totaling $450,000 in support of Dr. Gutova’s work. The funds will allow her and Wechsler-Reya to continue their translational research studies of this novel treatment method. If results prove promising, Gutova said they will proceed with development towards patient trials.

"We know firsthand how important these trials are to bettering the lives of childhood cancer patients, and we are dedicated to bringing promising research from the lab to the clinic. We see promise in Dr. Gutova’s brain tumor research and are glad to be able to support her efforts," said Jay Scott, co-executive director of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, in a press release announcing the grants.

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, prognoses for medulloblastoma vary widely, depending on age and stage of diagnosis. For infants diagnosed with localized disease, the five-year survival rate is 30 to 50 percent.

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