Stem cell researchers at the University of Minnesota have managed to create cancer-killing cells from the human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory in what could be a revolutionary method of treating several types of cancer.
The report of this discovery is to appear in the October 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology. The researchers were able to harvest "natural killer" cells from the stem cells in the laboratory. These natural killer cells are the body's first line of defense against foreign invaders in the form of bacteria, viruses, or even foreign proteins.
The researchers found that these natural killer cells generated from the stem cells were able to finish off cancer cells in vitro (in a test tube). "This is the first published research to show the ability to make cells from human embryonic stem cells that are able to treat and fight cancer, especially leukemias and lymphomas," observed Dan Kaufman, assistant professor of medicine in the Stem Cell Institute and Department of Medicine and lead author of the study. This study comes close on the heels of another study by Duke University researchers who found that monoclonal antibodies could be used to treat several types of leukemias, autoimmune diseases and transplant rejections.
In the present study, researchers were also able to accurately study how the immune system woks when confronted with unknown invaders. "We hear a lot about the potential of stem cells to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease." Kaufman said. "This research suggests it is possible that we could use human embryonic stem cells as a source for immune cells that could better target and destroy cancer cells and potentially treat infections." The researchers will next test thier theories on animal models. The National Institutes of Health and the American Society of Hematology sponsored this research.