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T-cells attacking a cancer cell. Digital illustration. © Andrea Danti

Stem Cell Therapy for Colon Cancer

Mesenchymal stem cells maintain the stemness of colon cancer stem cells via interleukin-8/mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway

Published on April 03, 2020

An article published in “Experimental Biology and Medicine” (Volume 245, Issue 6, March 2020) examines the safety of stem cell therapy for the treatment of colon cancer. The study, led by Dr. J. Liu in the State Key Laboratory of Bioreactor Engineering and Shanghai Key Laboratory of New Drug Design at the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai (China), reports that mesenchymal stem cells from a variety of sources promote the growth and metastasis of colon cancer cells in an animal model.

Mesenchymal stem (MSCs), a category of adult stem cells, are being evaluated as a therapy for numerous cancers. MSCs are excellent carriers for tumor treatment because they migrate to tumor tissues, can be genetically modified to secrete anticancer molecules and do not elicit immune responses. Clinical trials have shown that MSCs carrying modified genes can be used to treat colon cancer as well as ulcerative colitis. However, some studies have demonstrated MSCs can differentiate into cancer-associated fibroblasts and promote tumor growth. Therefore, additional studies are needed to evaluate the safety of MSCs for targeted treatment of colon cancer.

In the current study, Dr. Liu and colleagues examined the effects of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from three sources (bone marrow, adipose, and placenta) on colon cancer cells. MSCs from all three sources promoted tumor growth and metastasis in vivo. In vitro studies demonstrated that MSCs promote colon cancer cell stemness and epithelial to mesenchymal transition, which would enhance tumor growth and metastasis respectively. Finally, the detrimental effects of MSCs could be reversed by blocking IL-8 signaling pathways. Dr. Ma, a co-author of the study, said that “Mesenchymal stem cells have a dual role: promoting and/or suppressing cancer. Which effect is dominant depends on the type of tumor cell, the tissue source of the MSC and the interaction between the MSC and the cancer cell. This is the major issue in the clinical application research of MSCs, and additional preclinical experimental data will be needed to evaluate the safety of MSCs for colon cancer treatment.”

Dr. Steven R. Goodman, Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Biology & Medicine, said: “Lui and colleagues have performed elegant studies on the impact of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), from various sources, upon the proliferation, stemness, and metastasis of colon cancer stem cells (CSCs) in vitro and in vivo. They further demonstrate that IL-8 stimulates the interaction between colon CSCs and MSCs, and activates the MAPK signaling pathway in colon CSCs. This provides a basis for the further study of MSCs as a biologic therapy for colon cancer.”

Experimental Biology and Medicine is a global journal dedicated to the publication of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research in the biomedical sciences. The journal was first established in 1903. Experimental Biology and Medicine is the journal of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. To learn about the benefits of society membership, visit

Staff Writer