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Nose offers safe, effective pathway for delivering stem cell therapy to brain tumors

Treatment options for gliomas, the most common type of primary brain tumors, are very limited due to their diffuse invasive nature and their ability to evade conventional chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Stem cells have shown great promise as a therapy, but how best to deliver them to the tumor site has proven a challenge.

The most frequently used method, surgical implantation, has a low survival rate for the stem cells plus the procedure itself can lead to complications such as inflammation. Injecting the cells into the blood stream is another way, but it carries an increased risk of the cells accumulating in peripheral organs, which could cause side effects and also means that not enough of the stem cells are getting to the targeted tumor.

“We investigated the feasibility of intranasal administration of neural stem/progenitor cells [NSPC] as an alternative,” said principal investigator Nils Ole Schmidt, M.D., of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany. He and UMCHE colleague Matthias Reitz, M.D., oversaw the study, which also involved researchers from the University of British Columbia Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, and Chung-Ang University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea.

The scientists tested their idea on three different glioma cell lines in mice. The results showed that not only did the stem cells make it to the targeted tumor, but that they did it quickly and without settling in any peripheral areas. Six hours after initial delivery, the stem cells had enriched within the tumor area. Twenty-four hours later, the number of cells in the tumor had increased even further with up to 24 percent of stem cells that had been applied as nose drops.

The study also revealed two major migration routes — the olfactory nerve pathways and the tiny blood vessels that make up the body’s microvasculature system — and a potential signal that attracted the cells to the malignant tumor. “It is likely that guidance signals such as chemotactic factors released by the tumor itself and the adjacent reactive brain parenchyma drew in the stem cells,” Dr. Reitz said.

“Our study provides proof-of-concept that the non-invasive intranasal passage of NSPC is a highly attractive and efficient alternative method of cell administration for stem cell-based therapies in brain tumors. This offers the possibility of multiple treatments, potentially with different therapeutic payloads during the disease course,” Dr. Schmidt added.

“The study addresses an important aspect of any stem cell treatment – identification of a safe and effective delivery method as the treatment advances toward clinical trials,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, Editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “These results point to the potential of intranasal delivery as a convenient and non-invasive option for delivery.”

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The full article, "Intranasal delivery of neural stem/progenitor cells: a non-invasive passage to target intracerebral glioma” can be accessed at:

About STEM CELLS Translational Medicine: STEM CELLS TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE (SCTM), published by AlphaMed Press, is a monthly peer-reviewed publication dedicated to significantly advancing the clinical utilization of stem cell molecular and cellular biology. By bridging stem cell research and clinical trials, SCTM will help move applications of these critical investigations closer to accepted best practices.

About AlphaMed Press: Established in 1983, AlphaMed Press with offices in Durham, NC, San Francisco, CA, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, publishes two other internationally renowned peer-reviewed journals: STEM CELLS (, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2012, is the world's first journal devoted to this fast paced field of research. The Oncologist (, also a monthly peer-reviewed publication, entering its 18th year, is devoted to community and hospital-based oncologists and physicians entrusted with cancer patient care. All three journals are premier periodicals with globally recognized editorial boards dedicated to advancing knowledge and education in their focused disciplines