An Australian stem cell and regenerative medicine company

Solid Tumours (Cancer): brain cancer and melanoma

What is brain cancer?

Brain cancer can be separated into two categories. A primary brain tumour that originates in the brain and secondary tumours that are a result of a cancer spreading from another part of the body. The cancer cells grow to form a tumour that interferes with brain functions such as muscle control and memory. In 2015, there were over 1,000 deaths from brain cancer in Australia [1] alone and this is far higher globally. Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer and is the most common type of malignant brain tumour in adults.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is typically a cancer of the skin. It begins in melanocytes – the cells that produce the pigment melanin that colours the skin, hair and eyes. Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by age 85 is 1 in 13 for men compared to 1 in 22 for women and in Australia in 2015, there were 1520 deaths due to melanoma [2].

The study

Cynata entered into a collaborative agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, which is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School to develop modified mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat cancer, using its proprietary Cymerus™ platform technology.

The study was led by Dr Khalid Shah. Dr Shah leads the Molecular Neurotherapy and Imaging Laboratory and is Director of the Stem Cell Therapeutics and Imaging program at MGH. He is also an Associate Professor in Radiology and Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and a principal faculty member at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Dr Shah’s team have established a process to modify (genetically engineer) stem cells in the laboratory so that they secrete cancer-killing toxins and devised a process to engineer the stem cells so that they resist being killed by the toxins. This could facilitate selective killing of cancer cells, without affecting normal cells, which could improve efficacy with reduced side effects.

The initial studies confirmed that:

  • The Cymerus platform can be successfully engineered to express transgenes in a stable manner.
  • Engineered Cymerus MSCs persist in vivo for a sufficient length of time to facilitate a statistically significant therapeutic effect in a preclinical model of glioblastoma.

In a second stage of the program, engineered Cymerus MSCs were shown to cause a significant reduction in the viability of human glioblastoma cells when compared to either the control (p<0.005) or to direct administration of the therapeutic protein (p<0.05), and a significant reduction in the viability of human melanoma cells compared to the control (p<0.005). Furthermore, in an in vivo mouse model of glioblastoma, tumour progression was slower in mice that received the engineered Cymerus MSCs compared to those receiving the control.

[1] Australian Government – Cancer Australia

[2] Cancer Council Australia