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Just 30 percent of patients with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, survive past two years because even if a surgeon removes the tumor, it is nearly impossible to get the invasive tendrils that spread into the brain and allow the tumor to grow back.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina have pioneered a technique of turning skin cells into cancer-hunting stem cells that, in mice, found and killed remnant brain tumor cells.
Glioblastomas are aggressive, fast-growing tumors that form astrocytes, cells that make up the supportive tissue of the brain. Astrocytes reproduce quickly, and are supported by a large network of blood vessels, which is why the relatively rare cancer can be so difficult to treat, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.
“We wanted to find out if these induced neural stem cells would home in on cancer cells and whether they could be used to deliver a therapeutic agent,” Dr. Shawn Hingtgen, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, said in a press release. “This is the first time this direct reprogramming technology has been used to treat cancer.”