University research has recently proven that cancer patients may be able to withstand potentially lethal does of radiation treatment.

Chemotherapy is a standard treatment administered to a patient to destroy cancer cells. However, high doses become dangerous when the drug, which often fails to discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells, causes irreversible damage to healthy cells.

Associate Dentistry Prof. Dr. Jian-Guo Geng and his team have pinpointed the gastrointestinal tract as a potential solution to damaging doses of chemotherapy. Their study, recently published in the scientific journal Nature, shows that if the gastrointestinal tract is protected, it is able to nourish tissues in the body to increase the potential of healthy tissue surviving the radiation treatment.

“If you have more intestinal stem cells, you will be able to repair the damages caused by chemotherapy,” Geng said.

Geng and his colleagues discovered that when a specific protein, Robo1, binds with the molecule Slit2 on intestinal stem cells, this mechanism boosts cells’ healing effect.

By adding extra stem cells in the gastrointestinal tract, healthy tissues could be shielded from the radiation without decreasing tumor sensitivity to chemotherapy.

While a natural amount of intestinal stem cells heal damaged organs and tissues, the addition of extra stem cells enhances the protection of the intestine. The “normal” amounts of stem cells cannot guard the body from damage done by chemotherapy.

When the application of the additional stem cells was tested on mice, results showed overall lessened gut impairment and lower fatality. About 70 percent of mice survived the potentially lethal dose of chemotherapy, compared to the 100 percent mortality rate in mice without stem cell treatment.

Geng said the next step will be to translate his study to humans. He said his study will be FDA approved within the next few years.

In the future, if gastrointestinal tract studies on humans prove successful, this area of treatment has the potential to help people undergo higher doses of chemotherapy so that the malignant tumors can be targeted and eradicated without harming the body.

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