Breakthrough In Understanding Of How Brain Cancers Grow Could Lead To New Therapies

The recent discovery could lead to new treatments. Triff/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 05 Jul 2016, 10:59

Researchers may have discovered a new target for fighting the majority of malignant brain tumors, which may lead to the development of new therapeutic drugs to help tackle the aggressive cancers. The new research could provide a way to at least prevent the growth of the often fatal brain tumors known as gliomas.  

While most tumors have been found to use mainly sugar as an energy source, researchers from Newcastle University have found that gliomas do things slightly differently. They found that the gliomas instead rely mainly on fats to fuel themselves, changing what we thought we knew about how these cancers survive. The discovery gives new insight into these tumors, and could potentially pave the way for a novel means to treat them.

Glioma is the term used to describe any malignant brain tumor that develops from the glial tissue, which accounts for around 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors. They can further be broken down into three groups depending on which cells the tumor has developed from: astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma, and ependymoma. It is thought that they affect around 4 per 100,000 people each year, and they are one of the hardest cancers to treat. This means any new information or avenue to explore in regards to novel therapies is highly welcomed.

“Our finding provides a new understanding of brain tumor biology, and a new potential drug target for fighting this type of cancer,” explains Dr Elizabeth Stoll, lead author of the study published in Neuro-Oncology, in a statement. “Most cells within the adult brain require sugars to produce energy and sustain function. Interestingly, we have discovered that malignant glioma cells have a completely different metabolic strategy as they actually prefer to break down fats to make energy.”

The researchers used tissue samples donated by patients, as well as mouse models, and treated the glioma cells with a specific drug known as “etomoxir”, which prevents cells from making energy using fatty acids. The initial results from these experiments have been encouraging, showing that the treated glioma cells' growth slowed and that median survival times were prolonged by as much as 17 percent. “These results provide a novel drug target which could aid in the clinical treatment of this disease for patients in the future,” says Stoll.

The researchers now want to spend more time examining the potential of using drugs to target the metabolic pathway of the tumors, providing a glimmer of hope for glioma patients in the coming years.

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