A new study suggests stem cells may be able to act as a ‘shield’ to protect the body from the harmful side effects of chemotherapy, the BBC News reported.

As chemotherapy drugs attempt to kill cancer drugs, they can also affect the bone marrow and other healthy tissues.

In a new study, however, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle were able to use genetically modified stem cells to protect the bone marrow.

The bone marrow is very susceptible to chemotherapy, and in response to the treatment, produces less blood cells.  This leaves the body more prone to infection and fatigue.

Stem cell shielding appeared to stave off some of these negative side effects.  Researchers took bone marrow from patients with brain cancer and isolated the stem cells.  They infected the cells with a virus which carried a gene to protect the cells against a chemotherapy drug, and then re-implanted the cells into the patients.

"We found that patients were able to tolerate the chemotherapy better, and without negative side effects, after transplantation of the gene-modified stem cells than patients in previous studies who received the same type of chemotherapy without a transplant of gene-modified stem cells,” Professor Hans-Peter Kiem told the BBC News.

All three patients lived longer than the average survival time of 12 months.  One patient was still alive 34 months after treatment, according to the BBC.

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