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Fighting Cancer with Fat
Alfredo QuiƱones-Hinojosa MD, DHL (hon), FAANS, FACS
Professor of Neurological Surgery, Oncology,
Neuroscience, Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Director, Brain Tumor Surgery Program, JHB
Director, Pituitary Surgery Program, JHH
Director, Neurosurgery Stem Cell Laboratory
The Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution

In laboratory studies, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have found that engineered stem cells from a patient’s own fat may have potential to deliver new treatments directly into the brain after surgical removal of a glioblastoma. The most common and aggressive form or brain tumor.

Currently, standard treatments for glioblastoma are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, but even a combination of all three rarely leads to more than 1.5 year survival after diagnosis.  Glioblastoma tumor cells are particularly nimble, migrating across the entire brain and establishing new tumors. This migratory capability is thought to be a key reason for the low cure rate of this tumor type.

Called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), these cells derived from fat tissue have an unexplained ability to seek out damaged cells, such as those involved with cancer. This ability can be utilized by clinicians to access parts of the brain where cancer cells can hide and proliferate anew. The researchers say harvesting MSCs from fat is less invasive and less expensive than getting them from bone marrow, a more commonly studied method.

For their test-tube experiments, Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa and his colleagues bought human MSCs derived from fat. They engineered these MSCs to secrete a protein, BMP4, which has been shown by other research groups to inhibit the malignant characteristics of brain cancer. Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa and his colleagues found that these engineered MSCs were able to chase down brain tumors and reduce the growth of the tumor.

While further studies are underway, it will be years before human trials on MSC delivery systems can begin.  Ideally, if MSCs work, a patient with a glioblastoma would have some adipose tissue (fat) removed – from any number of locations I the body – a short time before surgery. The MSCs in the fat would be drawn out and manipulated in the lab to secret BMP4 or other cancer fighting agents. Then, after surgeons removed the rain tumor, they cold deposit these treatment-armed cells into the brain in the hopes that they would seek out and destroy the cancer cells.

Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa (often referred to as Dr. Q) was born in 1968 in a little village near Mexicali, Mexico. He spent his childhood in Mexico until came to the United States at the age of 19. Speaking no English at that time, he worked on farms outside of Fresno, California earning money to take English classes. From there he took classes at San Joaquin Delta College in California and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley with highest honors. Dr. Q went on to receive a medical degree from Harvard University, where he graduated cum laude, and completed his residency in neurosurgery at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Q is now an internationally renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist who leads cutting edge research to cure brain cancer.  Named as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in 2008, Dr. Q was also selected by Popular Science magazine as one of their 6th Annual Brilliant Ten in their search for young genius influencing the course of science.  He has also published an autobiography, “Becoming Dr. Q” about his journey from migrant farm worker to brain surgeon.

Dr. Q conducts numerous research efforts on elucidating the role of stem cells in the origin of brain tumors and the potential role stem cells can play in fighting brain cancer and regaining neurological function.  He has received R01 funding from the National Institute of Health for his work with stem cells and cancer and his awards include also grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Physician-Scientist Early Career Award, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an the Maryland Stem Cell Foundation .  Dr. Q has given over 200 invited lectures nationally and internationally, including visiting professorships at several universities.

Learn more about Dr. Q's Quest
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Additional Information:

Read a scholarly article on the MSCs taken from fat cells vs. bone marrow

Read a scholarly article in Nature on the produced proteins from MSCs, like BMP4,  inhibiting the growth of a brain tumor

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