Research & Clinical Trials

Stem Cell Research at PMC Holds Great Potential

Written By:
Jan 16, 2014
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
January 16, 2014

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute in California is moving forward with potentially groundbreaking stem cell mesothelioma research that could dramatically change the treatment of this disease.

While mesenchymal stem cells already are utilized in therapies for several autoimmune diseases, the novel research will explore using them for the first time as a vehicle to deliver molecular and gene therapies directly to mesothelioma sites.

The goal is to develop a reliable therapy to provide long-term survival for pleural mesothelioma patients, which currently doesn’t exist. The majority of mesothelioma patients still die within two years of a diagnosis, even with the most aggressive, multimodality approach.

Researchers are conducting the studies at the Pacific Meso Center (PMC), which is part of the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (PHLBI). The research is under the direction of renowned surgeon and mesothelioma specialist Robert Cameron, scientific advisor at the PMC, chief of thoracic surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and director of the UCLA Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program.

“This cutting edge strategy has the potential both to increase the chance of long-term survival and eliminate current treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy that come with significant side effects,” Cameron said.

Stem Cells Provide Unique Delivery

Cameron believes the therapy can be most effective in destroying residual cancer cells that remain after mesothelioma surgery removes all visible tumors. Those residual cancer cells are what normally cause the almost inevitable recurrence, and metastasis of mesothelioma.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are a unique type of cell that can be derived from bone marrow, fat tissue, placenta and other body tissue. This particular research primarily involves human placenta stem cells that will carry therapeutic proteins into areas where mesothelioma cells remain.

According to a recent press release from the PMC, the early testing will be done on multicellular tumor spheroids, a customized 3-D model designed for studying treatments in the laboratory.

“Placenta-derived mesenchymal stem cells are intriguing because they, like the placenta, are not easily recognized by the body as foreign tissue, which makes them an excellent source of universally compatible stem cells for use in cancer therapy,” Cameron said.

Stem Cells Could Solve Other Cancers, Too

He believes they also can be effective for use against lung cancer and thymic malignancies. The stem cells can be especially effective because they remain in the body for a long period of time, which has been a delivery problem with past therapies.

The PHLBI formed the Pacific Stem Cell Center in 2013 to help develop the latest stem cell advancements. Mesothelioma, which is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 Americans annually, is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos fibers. Pleural mesothelioma, which Cameron has been studying for more than 20 years, forms in the soft, protective tissue surrounding the lungs. It often takes between 20 to 50 years between exposure to asbestos and a definitive diagnosis.

Cameron also was a pioneer in developing the lung-sparing, pleurectomy/decortication surgical procedure that is widely used today to combat the incurable disease.

The PHLBI already has been exploring the use of stem cells in combating cardiac and coronary diseases. Researchers everywhere believe that stem cell therapies eventually will help with a variety of illnesses, including cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Stem cells have shown great potential in correcting spinal cord injuries, too.

The PMC was buoyed recently by a $100,000 donation from a California attorney who works closely with Cameron in the past. The stem cell work being done there has the potential to change the direction of treatment for mesothelioma.

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