Adipose tissue may provide a more efficient source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) than bone marrow, and the cell-harvesting process would be less invasive and less expensive.

This finding emerged from research led by Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, MD, who is a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. The work focused on glioblastoma, the most common primary malignant brain tumor.

Glioblastoma is refractory to surgical resection, radiation, and chemotherapy. MSCs, which can be harvested from bone marrow as well as from adipose tissue, are a promising avenue of investigation for the delivery of adjuvant therapies, wrote the researchers in PLOS ONE (2013;8[3]:e58198).

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“The biggest challenge in brain cancer is the migration of cancer cells,” explained Quinones-Hinojosa in a statement issued by Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Even when we remove the tumor, some of the cells have already slipped away and are causing damage somewhere else.”

However, MSCs have an unexplained ability to seek out damaged cells and may be able to act as a vehicle to bring drugs, nanoparticles, or some other treatment directly to cells. Moreover, the investigators discovered in test-tube experiments that whether derived from fat or bone marrow, MSCs proliferated, migrated, survived, and maintained their potential as stem cells equally well.

Although human trials of MSC delivery systems are still years away, it is possible that eventually, adipose tissue could be removed from any number of sites in a patient’s body shortly before glioblastoma surgery. The MSCs from that tissue would be engineered to carry treatments, and would be deposited into the brain after tumor removal to seek out and destroy remaining cancer cells.

As Quinones-Hinojosa and his colleagues noted in their report, the ability to harvest larger numbers of adipose MSCs than bone marrow MSCs under local anesthesia is well-documented, and patient morbidity may be minimized during the harvesting of the adipose MSCs.