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Archives - Fat, the Cancer Fighter

Winter 2014

Fat, the Cancer Fighter

Date: February 1, 2014


Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa (right) and colleagues have found that stem cells from a patient’s own fat may help beat aggressive brain cancer
Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa (right) and colleagues have found that stem cells from a patient’s own fat may help beat aggressive brain cancer.

Of all the primary malignant brain tumors that affect adults, glioblastomas are the most common—and the deadliest. Currently, standard treatments for glioblastoma are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, but even a combination of all three rarely leads to more than 18 months of survival after diagnosis. Glioblastoma tumor cells are particularly mobile, migrating across the entire brain and establishing new tumors. This traveling capability is thought to be a key reason for the low cure rate.

But a tissue type often considered a bodily pariah could hold the key to new and more effective glioblastoma treatments. In laboratory studies, Hopkins researchers led by neurosurgeon—Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa—have found that stem cells from a patient’s own fat may have the potential to deliver new treatments directly into the brain after the surgical removal of glioblastoma tumors.

The investigators say mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)—multipotent stem cells that can be isolated from a variety of tissues, including bone marrow, muscle, and adipose tissue—have an unexplained ability to seek out damaged cells, such as those involved in cancer. This quality may provide clinicians a new tool for accessing difficult-to-reach parts of the brain where cancer cells can hide and proliferate anew. Furthermore, harvesting MSCs from fat is less invasive and less expensive than getting them from other sources.

“The biggest challenge in brain cancer is the migration of cancer cells,” says Quiñones-Hinojosa. “Even when we remove the tumor, some of the cells have already slipped away and are causing damage somewhere else. Building on our findings, we may be able to arm a patient’s own healthy cells with the treatment needed to chase down those cancer cells and destroy them.”  Christen Brownlee