Human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are found in adult tissues such as the bone marrow. These cells are able to divide to increase in numbers and generate tissues including bone and cartilage. For this reason, MSCs may provide a valuable tool for the treatment of diseases that affect the skeleton. Another interesting property of MSCs is that they appear to be able to seek-out tumours and may be able to reduce tumour size.

What is Dr Genever investigating?

In previous studies, Dr Genever has identified new and exciting properties of MSCs that suggest they could be prompted to have cancer-killing effects that may be used to treat primary bone cancers. Dr Genever, and his team at The University of York, established a novel system which grows the MSCs as three-dimensional (3D) spheres of cells (or "3D MSCs"). Through extensive studies, they found that this 3D method changes the behaviour of MSCs. Most noticeably, 3D MSCs produce a factor called IL-24 that can selectively kill certain cancer cells without affecting normal cells. The application of this IL-24 factor has reached the early stages of clinical trials for other cancer types and so its benefit in primary bone cancer looks very promising.

What did this project determine?

This project confirmed that 3D MSCs expressed significantly higher levels of IL-24 compared to 2D MSCs and analysed the effects of IL-24 on osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma cells. It was found that quite high concentrations of IL-24 were required to induce the death of these tumour cells and that this high concentration was also toxic to normal, healthy cells.

These findings suggested that while 3D MSCs could selectively induce cell death in osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma cell lines, there are some concerns regarding toxicity and the side-effects this would pose. Although 3D MSCs may be of use in the future, there is still work to be done regarding the delivery of this therapy and the protection of normal, healthy, cells from damage.

This project was funded in 2009

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