As the single most prevalent primary liver cancer and the third leading cause of cancer related deaths worldwide, a hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) diagnosis presents patients with an exceedingly poor long-term prognosis. Currently there are no known treatments, and as such, biomedical researchers continue to look for new effective therapies.


In a recent study by Alshareeda, et al published in PLOS ONE, the HCC rat models were developed using cell sheet engineering. Unlike the more commonly used technique to induce cancer in animal models by injecting cancer cell suspensions, which can result in considerably reduced efficiency of engraftment of the transplanted cells, cell sheet engineering “offers a more gentle way of harvesting intact 3D cultured cells that maintains the deposited extracellular matrix (ECM) as well as cell-cell interactions.” In other words, the poor cell survival that traditionally results from dissociated cell suspension injection, has the potential to be significantly improved through the use of cell sheets.


The current recommended therapies for patients suffering from HCC include ablative treatments, surgical resection and allogenic transplantation. However, these treatments are not suitable for many HCC patients, as most are not diagnosed until the late stages of the disease and already suffer from exceedingly poor liver function, making surgical intervention a near impossibility. Therefore, it is critical to develop new therapies that can effectively treat HCC.


As part of their research, Alshareeda, et al have investigated the effect of stromal cells – specifically human umbilical cord mesenchymal stromal cells (UC-MSCs) and human bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSCs) – on developed HCC tumors. While both UC-MSCs and BM-MSCs improved liver function in HCC rat models, tumor development was almost completely prevented after the addition of UC-MSCs to the cell sheet, whereas the addition of BM-MSCs did not prevent tumor development in transplanted rats.

While using MSCs in cancer therapy isn’t without controversy, this study demonstrates that stromal cells from human umbilical cord tissue may play a key role in the treatment of HCC, and could provide a foundation for novel preclinical studies involving new applications of MSCs.