Henry Farhoodi, a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences, and Aude Segaliny, a postdoctoral scholar in pharmaceutical sciences, were part of the UCI research team that developed a new strategy for battling cancer that has metastasized to bones. Maurisa Jones / UCI

Irvine, Calif., July 8, 2019 — University of California, Irvine researchers have developed and tested on mice a therapeutic treatment that uses engineered stem cells to target and kill cancer bone metastases while preserving the bone. 

This new approach, reported in the journal EBioMedicine, equips engineered mesenchymal stem cells with targeting agents that drive them to bone metastatic sites, where they offload therapeutics. Link to study: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352396419304281?via%3Dihub

“What’s powerful about this strategy is that we deliver a combination of both anti-tumor and anti-bone resorption agents so we can effectively block the vicious circle between cancers and their bone niche,” said the study’s lead author, Weian Zhao, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering. “This is a safe and almost nontoxic treatment compared to chemotherapy, which often leaves patients with lifelong issues.”

Sandra Spivey, an Orange County patient advocate who has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 1997, has experienced firsthand the ravages of traditional treatment. “Chemotherapy can kill both cancer cells and normal cells and create drastic side effects,” she said. “I have lost my hair; I have lost sensation in my hands and feet. Most of all, chemotherapy really robs you of your time. This new targeted approach could improve quality of life both during and after treatment.”

The strategy could also be implemented with other bone diseases that are usually difficult to manage, such as multiple myeloma and osteoporosis.

“This study will pave the way to a clinical trial in the short term, as this type of stem cell has already been tested and deemed safe in the clinic,” Zhao said. “UCI’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center are fully equipped to conduct this type of clinical trial. We will look to target patients with bone metastases.”

Also contributing to the study were Aude Segaliny, Jason Cheng, Henry Farhoodi, Michael Toledano, Chih Chun Yu, Leanne Hildebrand, Linan Liu, Michael Liao, Jaedu Cho, Dongxu Liu, Lizhi Sun, Gultekin Gulsen and Min-Ying Su of UCI; and Beatrice Tierra and Dr. Robert Sah of UC San Diego.

Support was provided by the National Cancer Institute (P30CA062203), the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Irvine-based Baylx Inc. and France’s ARC Foundation for Cancer Research.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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