Scientist Develops Product To Boost Cancer Research
Rodney Nash was trying to grow cancer cells and human stem cells in his lab when he realized something fundamental was wrong.
The growth media, the substance many scientists use to grow cells in petri dishes and flasks, typically contain animal products. And that can skew the results of research involving human cells.
Essentially, the medium that so many scientists rely on is “a contaminant,” Nash said.
He couldn’t find many alternatives on the market, so he began mixing ingredients to make his own media, creating a new product that could be a boon to researchers trying to find a cure for cancer and other diseases.
“We thought, if we want to grow the cells for human testing, we need some type of human media,” said Nash, the president and chief executive officer of Jeevan Biosciences Inc., a stem cell company in Georgia State University’s CollabTech biotechnology business incubator. “We’re trying to make a human model that people can use to study. You can’t use animal products.”
Jeevan Biosciences Inc. has applied for a patent for the product called Neuro-X™, which is free of animal and blood products. Nash also landed a distributor, Worldwide Medical Products Inc., and the product is being sold commercially. Because it doesn’t include serum, a blood product, the media do not require refrigeration, which reduces shipping costs, he said.
Nash, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Georgia State, didn’t set out to create a new product. But the “need presented itself and the opportunity was there,” he said.
Nash said Neuro-X will enable researchers to conduct more accurate studies of human cells and diseases. The product got its name because Nash was originally trying to grow neuronal stem cells, the building blocks of the brain and other parts of the nervous system, but he found the media successfully grow a variety of cancer and other cells.
He said it will also be useful to researchers working with stem cells, which are important to researchers because they can develop into many different cell types in the body. When working with stem cells, it’s helpful for the media to be serum-free because inserting new genes during research requires shutting down the old genes. Serum contains growth factors that prevent the cell from shutting down as needed, Nash said.
Nash, who teaches biology at Georgia State, is also focused on research into a new type of stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells to improve the development of new drugs.
Until recently, scientists worked primarily with stem cells from embryos or non-embryonic “adult” stem cells, but in 2006 researchers discovered conditions that would allow some specialized adult cells to be reprogrammed genetically to assume a stem cell-like state, becoming induced pluripotent stem cells, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Stem cells are critical in the fight against cancer. Nash said 58 percent of cancer tumors will return because of cancer stem cells, which may remain in nearby tissue after a surgeon has removed a tumor. Cancer patients may receive chemotherapy, which targets dividing cancer cells. But cancer stem cells usually don’t divide, or divide at a slower rate, meaning chemotherapy drugs can’t target them.
Nash recently made human stem cells for glioblastoma, an aggressive, malignant brain tumor in humans. Most people diagnosed with this form of cancer live only about three months. Less than one percent live past five years, Nash said.
Nash hopes his work will improve those odds.