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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer.

Can Stem Cells Really Cure Brain Tumours?

In the first transplant of umbilical cord stem cells in Spanish history, a four-year-old girl has been cured of a brain tumour, according to Spanish media sources.

Alba Martinez was born in the province of Cádiz in 2007 and despite her good health, her parents say they decided to provide her with “life insurance” by means of preserving her umbilical cord blood in cryogenic storage.

At 22 months, Martinez began to suffer from a brain tumour and needed several intensive rounds of chemotherapy, which destroyed her blood cells, requiring her to receive infusions of stem cells from her umbilical cord.

The availability of such a treatment in infants suffering from cancer is rare, due to the fact that in most cases the child suffers from leukaemia, which originates in a genetic defect also found in the child’s stem cells.

After her stem cells restored her blood system, Martinez remains cancer free. Doctors will be able to certify her as “cured” after living a total of five years without a relapse.

Read about Alba's story here
Young girl and her mother visit the doctor

How Do Stem Cells Cure Brain Tumours?

A type of brain tumour called a high-grade glioma, or malignant brain tumor is among the hardest tumours to treat.

Gliomas are particularly difficult to treat because they are made up of tumour cells that spread throughout the brain, not remaining in a single area where they could be removed through surgery or targeted by radiation.

Chemotherapy has not been effective at eradicating all of the glioma cells.

Stem cell approaches look promising for treating gliomas. Certain types of stem cell tend to migrate toward the tumour cells wherever they are in the brain.

CIRM-funded researchers are trying to genetically engineer those stem cells to produce cancer-killing molecules. Transplanted into the brain, these cells would seek out the cancer cells and deliver their therapy directly where it is needed.

This approach could significantly decrease toxic side-effects to normal tissues, preserving or improving the patient’s quality of life.

Other Methods of Research into Stem Cell Brain Tumour Treatments

According to a new study carried out by scientists from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, laboratory research shows that stem cells can effectively deliver drugs to a medulloblastoma tumour site – the most common paediatric brain tumour.

Usually, paediatric medulloblastoma patients receive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can be damaging for the developing brain and impact on a child’s quality of life. The outcome of the study could be important as it would reduce the intensity of treatment and decrease the effect it has on medulloblastoma patients.

The study is at its early stages and still needs to go through clinical trials. However, the possibility of using a patient’s own tissue to destroy tumour cells is promising as it could potentially be used on other rare and difficult to treat brain tumours.

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