Starving cancer stem cells as a new approach to glioblastoma

Luis Parada and Sloan Kettering colleagues are focusing on cancer stem cells as a new approach to glioblastoma.

Like normal stem cells, cancer stem cells have the ability to rebuild a tumor, even after most of it has been removed, leading to cancer relapse and metastasis.

According to Parada: “The pharmaceutical industry has traditionally used established cancer cell lines to screen for new drugs, but these cell lines don’t always reflect how cancer behaves in the body. The therapies that are currently in use were designed to target cells that are rapidly dividing. But what we’ve concluded in our studies is that glioblastoma stem cells divide relatively slowly within tumors, leaving them unaffected by these treatments.”

Even if most of the tumor is destroyed, the stem cells allow it to regrow.

The team discovered a drug, which they called Gboxin, that effectively treated glioblastoma in mice, and killed human glioblastoma cells.  They then discovered that Gboxin killed cancer stem cells by starving them of energy – . by preventing cells from making ATP through oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria.  When Gboxin accumulates within cancer stem cells, it essentially strangles the mitochondria and shuts energy production down.

The next step is to determine that Gboxin will be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and potential side effects of the drug.

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Nobel-worthy stem cell discovery

Haruko Obokata and colleagues at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology have created embryonic stem cells from a single blood cell by putting white blood cells from a baby mouse in a mild acid solution. Eventually a few stem cells emerge that can turn into any other cell in the body including skin, heart, liver or neurons.

Scientists have long searched for ways to make human embryonic stem cells that did not destroy human embryos. These cells hold great potential for treating Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease and diabetes.

Obokata put the blood cells in a mild acid for about 30 minutes. The pH of the solution was about 5.7. A few days later, the cells stopped acting like blood and started behaving like stem cells.  When the researchers injected the cells into a mouse embryo, the cells acted just like other stem cells: They created all the organs needed for an adult mouse. The team named the cells stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP.

This breakthrough could enable scientists to create stem cells from any person, thus controlling genetic similarity, and use them to repair nerve injuries.