Hope for childhood brain cancer: Scientists believe they could DOUBLE survival time by blocking a gene that helps deadly pediatric tumors grow and spread
- Researchers studied mice programmed to develop glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer
- They discovered a gene that fuels tumor growth and binds together different forms of RNA, which carries instructions from DNA to parts of the body
- By injecting molecules that interfere with RNA, the rate of tumor cell growth and spreading decreased
- Mice injected with the molecules lived twice as long as those that did not receive the injection
Scientists may have found a way to stop a highly aggressive and deadly pediatric brain cancer from growing in its earliest stages.
In a study conducted on mice, researchers discovered a gene that helps a type of brain cancer known as glioblastoma turn other brain cells cancerous.
But by injecting molecules that target the gene, it significantly slowed down the rate of tumor cell growth and spread.
In fact, mice with brain cancer were able to live twice as long as rodents that didn’t receive treatment.
The team, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, says the findings could lead to the discovery of therapies that stop glioblastoma from forming in its earliest stages – or from reoccurring.
A new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found that blocking a gene that helps glioblastoma grow and spread may increase survival time (file image)
Gliobastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, is a rare, aggressive type of brain tumor that is found in the brain or on the spinal cord.
They form from star-shaped cells in the brain known as astrocytes and make their own blood supply, allowing them to grow quickly.
Symptoms include constant painful headaches, vomiting, seizures, double vision and trouble speaking.
Approximately 14,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.
Treatment options to slow and control tumor growth include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – but the cancer usually recurs.
The tumors are grade IV, the most deadly form, and the five-year survival rate is only five percent.
For the new study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the team studied mice that had been programmed to develop brain cancer.
They discovered a gene in the brain called Zfp36l1. It starts biological processes that seem to look like healthy early brain development, but actually help the tumor grow.
The gene also binds together different forms of RNA, which carries instructions from DNA to parts of the body that make protein.
Researchers found by injecting molecules that interfere with RNA, it reduced the expression of the gene.
Gene expression is the process by which the information contained within a gene becomes a useful product, meaning that the gene that helps tumor growth had become less effective.
Half of the mice with glioblastoma were injected with the interfering molecules while the other half were not.
The mice that received the injection survived for nearly twice as long as the control mice.
To see if the results would be similar in human brain tumors, the team tested tumor cells in petri dishes – and found similar results.
‘When we used small RNA-interfering molecules to inhibit the expression of the gene in mouse and human glioma tumor cells, it significantly decreased the rate of glioma cell growth and spread,’ said lead investigator Dr Richard Lu of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
‘In mice with glioblastoma tumors, [knocking out the gene] significantly increased survival time for the animals.’
The team stressed that the study was in mice with brain cancer, so it’s unclear if the discovery will translate to humans with the disease.
However, they note that the findings provide important clues about potential ways to stop the tumor from growing in its earliest stages.