Personalised tumour-detecting cells from adult skin cells have been used to shrink brain tumours in mice by up to 5%, scientists have revealed. While the strategy has not yet been fully tested in people, it could in the future give doctors the ability to develop a custom treatment for certain cancer types.

This research has already been conducted using neural stem cells to find brain cancer in mice and deliver tumour-eradicating drugs. Getting these cells is very hard, however. Currently there are three main ways: harvesting the cells directly from the patient, harvest them from another patient, or genetically reprogram adult cells.

To solve the issues around these, the researchers attempted to see if they could avoid a part of the genetic reprogramming process in which skin cells are transformed into neural stem cells. To do this they treated the skin cells with a cocktail of chemicals to promote neural; stem cell characteristics.

When these were then used to find tumours, they moved the width of five human hairs in 22 hours. Mouse tumours injected with the reprogrammed stem cells shrank 50-fold in around 26 days, compared with non-treated mice. The survival times of treated rodents also nearly doubled.

From here, the scientists will test how far the cells can migrate using larger animal models. Skin cells are also being taken from glioblastoma patients to ensure the new method works for people.