Researchers from UCLA’s stem cell and cancer centers have demonstrated for the first time that blood stem cells can be engineered to create cancer-killing T-cells that seek out and attack a human melanoma. The researchers believe this approach could be useful in 40 percent of Caucasians with this malignancy.

Done in mouse models, the study serves as first proof-of-principle that blood stem cells, which make every cell type found in blood, can be genetically altered in a living organism to create an army of melanoma-fighting T-cells, said Jerome Zack, study senior author and a scientist with Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We knew from previous studies that we could generate engineered T-cells, but would they work to fight cancer in a relevant model of human disease, such as melanoma,” said Zack, a professor of medicine and microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics in Life Sciences. “We found with this study that they do work in a human model to fight cancer, and it’s a pretty exciting finding.”

The study appears Nov. 28, 2011 in the early online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.