UBC breakthrough could help restrict the spread of brain cancer
By discovering how brain cancer spreads to healthy cells, UBC researchers hope to make current treatments more successful.
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New research into how one type of brain cancer invades healthy cells and spreads could one day help patients survive the disease, according to University of British Columbia researchers.
Professor Christian Naus and his team at the university’s Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences recently published three papers that show how glioma cells – the most aggressive of adult brain cancers –use small genetic molecules (called microRNAs) to reprogram supporting cells called astrocytes to help the tumour spread.
“It creates a pathway for the cancer to invade more brain cells,” said Naus.
While most research into glioma has focused on the cancer cells themselves, Naus’ work is the first in understanding how the cancer affects healthy parts of the brain to facilitate its spread.
He hopes that by understanding the nature of the disease, glioma patients will one day be able to receive more effective treatment.
“We’d like to follow up on this basic discovery and develop a therapeutic approach,” he said. “The challenge with this particular cancer has always been around the surgery. It is hard to remove the tumour without damaging a lot of core functions of the brain.”
The remaining cells can regrow despite chemo- and radiotherapies.
But being able to stop the cancer from hijacking healthy brain cells and spreading could help supplement current glioma treatments and make them more effective.
While all cancers share similar characteristics, Naus said the term encapsulates many different diseases.
Learning more about specific ones through research and developing personalized treatments has made a big difference with many types of cancers, and Naus hopes that will one day apply to glioma patients as well.
“There’s a tremendous amount of cancer research going on. There is so much being published that it’s hard to keep up with all the work,” he said.
But the breakthroughs that come out of the research is “where you see the success stories,” he said.