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New way to track stem cell migration could advance treatments for brain tumors and more

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Numerous stem cell-based therapies are currently under investigation, including an FDA-approved clinical trial focused on employing neural stem cells (NSCs) in delivering drugs targeting invasive brain tumors. “The ability to monitor the time course, migration and distribution of stem cells following transplantation into these patients would provide critical information for optimizing treatment regimens,” Dr. Moats said. “However, no effective cell-tracking methodology had yet garnered clinical acceptance.”

A labeling and imaging protocol using clinical grade ferumoxytol — an iron replacement product currently approved to treat iron deficiency anemia in patients with chronic kidney disease — has shown promise in some studies as a possible tracking agent. The Moats-Aboody team in conjunction with Dr. Joseph A. Frank, a co-investigator at NIH, had previously demonstrated that the combination of ferumoxides with protamine sulfate showed promise in labeling the NSCs for this purpose.

In this most recent study, they wanted to build upon their work by testing how adding heparin to the ferumoxytol and protamine sulfate mix (a combination called HPF) might affect the NSC labeling.

The results showed great promise in the lab. “Additionally,” Dr. Aboody said, “when we tested it on mice with brain tumors we were able to track the NSC distribution using an MRI at multiple time-points following intracerebral or intravenous injection. The mice demonstrated no significant clinical or behavioral changes, no neuronal or systemic toxicities and no abnormal accumulation of iron in the liver or spleen.”

“Overall, we propose that ferumoxytol-labeling is an effective cell-tracking method that is safe for clinical use, contributing little to the risk side of a given risk/benefit analysis,” Dr. Moats concluded.

Dr. Moats is a member of the Department of Radiology at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and University of Southern Californian’s Keck School of Medicine while Dr. Aboody is with the Department of Neurosciences at City of Hope National Medical Center & Beckman Research Institute in Duarte, Calif. The investigative team also included researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Chicago and the University of British Columbia.