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Posted: September 17th, 2023

Stem Cell Therapy in Cancer Treatment

Stem Cell Therapy in Cancer Treatment
Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. While treatment options have improved in recent years, many forms of cancer still lack effective therapies. Stem cell therapy has emerged as a promising approach for cancer treatment. This article explores how stem cells are being used in cancer research and clinical trials.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. There are two main types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos and have the broadest potential to become any cell type. Adult stem cells are found in small numbers in many tissues and can generate a limited number of cell types (National Cancer Institute, 2022).
Stem Cell Transplantation
One application of stem cells in cancer treatment is stem cell transplantation. This involves high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells. It also destroys the patient’s bone marrow, which produces new blood cells. Healthy stem cells are then transfused into the patient intravenously to repopulate the bone marrow (Mayo Clinic, 2023). The stem cells can come from the patient (autologous transplant) or a donor (allogeneic transplant). This approach is used to treat various blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
Tumor-Targeted Delivery
Researchers are also exploring ways to use stem cells to directly target and kill tumor cells. One approach involves engineering mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to carry anti-cancer agents specifically to the tumor site. MSCs have a natural ability to home in on sites of injury or inflammation, including tumors. In animal studies, MSCs have been loaded with drugs, viruses or other toxins and shown to selectively deliver their cargo to tumors when injected intravenously (National Cancer Institute, 2022). This targeted approach aims to maximize the dose to cancer cells while minimizing side effects.
Immunotherapy Applications

Stem cells may also augment the body’s own anti-tumor immune response. For example, dendritic cells educate and activate other immune cells. In clinical trials, dendritic cells are being harvested from patients’ blood, exposed to tumor antigens in the lab, and reinfused to stimulate an anti-tumor T cell response (Mayo Clinic, 2023). Additionally, certain adult stem cells like mesenchymal stem cells are thought to suppress inflammation and the immune system. This property is being investigated for its potential to help control dangerous immune reactions to immunotherapy drugs.
While still in early stages of research and development, stem cell therapy holds promise as a new strategy for treating various cancers. Ongoing clinical trials continue to evaluate stem cell-based approaches for safety and effectiveness. As stem cell technologies advance, they may expand the therapeutic arsenal and improve outcomes for many cancer patients.
National Cancer Institute. (2022, March 30). Stem cell transplantation (PDQ®)–Patient Version.
Mayo Clinic. (2023, January 18). Stem cell transplant.

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