Scientists at the Rogosin Institute in New York have found a new weapon in the fight against cancer: beads made from mouse cancer cells. Researchers created the beads by removing cancer cells from mice and coating them in agarose, a sugar derived from seaweed. In previous tests on animals, the study found that the beads significantly reduced the size of the surrounding tumors.
The beads start as a mixture of agarose and kidney cancer cells from mice. The next step is to cover the mixture in another layer of agarose, creating the coating for the bead. After three to ten days, almost all of the kidney cancer cells die off. The remaining cells resemble cancer “stem cells” and begin to reproduce inside the bead.
As the stem cells divide and refill the bead’s interior, they emit proteins that other nearby cancer cells use as a signal. The process essentially “tricks” cancer cells into believing that more cancer cells are nearby and that the existing cancer cells must stop growing. In most cases, the tumors can stagnate, shrink, or die off entirely.
The process of testing the method on humans has already begun. At least thirty cancer patients have been implanted with the beads, with more test subjects expected to join the study pending the early results. The patients in the study have some of the most aggressive forms of cancer, including colon, pancreatic and prostate cancers, in the advanced stages of the disease. The research team hopes to release the results from the small-scale study by the end of the year.
Dr. Howard Parnes, a researcher with the National Cancer Institute, called the efforts at Rogosin “a completely novel way” of looking at cancer treatment methods. He said that the methods of moving mouse cancer cells into humans has yet to show any evidence of creating any ill effects on patients. Dr. Parnes mentioned that the study showed a “remarkable proof of principle” that the genetic structure of cancer cells in one animal could be used as an effective treatment in another species.
Dr. Daniel Petrylak, director of the prostate-cancer program at Columbia University Medical Center, said that the results from the Rogosin study appear to be “very compelling”. Dr. Petrylak said that he would soon select patients to take part in the next phase of the study. Prostate cancer is often very aggressive and spreads quickly throughout the body, thus prostate cancer patients would be suitable candidates for further testing.
Dr. Barry Smith, director of the Rogosin Institute, said that the team’s results with lab mice were promising. The study showed that mice treated with the beads showed a reduction in tumor size of up to sixty percent within a month of the procedure. The group also treated eleven dogs with prostate cancer using the beads. The dogs that received the beads lived an average of nearly six months, with one dog surviving for almost two years, compared with a typical survival time of less than two months for untreated dogs.