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Could stem cells help brain-cancer patients regain cognitive abilities?

A new study, to be published in Cancer Research on July 15, suggests that stem cells may be the key to restoring cognitive functions such as learning and memory after brain tumor treatment.

Radiation therapy can be highly effective in eliminating otherwise-deadly brain tumors, but rarely without taking a toll on neighboring healthy brain cells. As described in a release, neural radiation can cause patients' IQs to drop by as many as three points per year.

For this study, researchers from UC Irvine transplanted stem cells into the brains of rats whose brains had undergone radiation two days prior. They measured the rats' cognitive abilities several months later and found that 15 percentĀ of the stem cells that had survived in the rats' brains had developed into neurons, while another 45 percentĀ of the cells had developed into equally crucial supporting glial cells. The stem-cell-treated rats exhibited restored brain function, while irradiated rats that didn't receive the stem-cell treatment showed no improvement.

Radiation oncology professor Charles Limoli, PhD, says the next step would be to test this in humans:

While much work remains, a clinical trial analyzing the safety of such approaches may be possible within a few years, most likely with patients afflicted with glioblastoma multiforme, a particularly aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer.

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