A research team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, found a unique way of reining the spread of Glioblastoma Multiforme, one of the deadliest and most aggressive brain tumors in humans, by disrupting the way tumor stem cells replicate.
Dr. Albert H. Kim, lead author of the discovery and assistant professor at Washington University, hopes that the new finding could help researchers “attack the root of some of the deadliest brain tumors.”
He explained that a successful cure for brain cancer would first try and block cancer stem cells reproduction.
Glioblastoma is a very aggressive form of brain cancer that affects more than 18,000 people in the U.S. each year. Patients diagnosed with it, usually have a low survivability rate. While the average survivability rate is 15 months, only 30 percent of patients live more than two years.
Currently, the most efficient treatment for glioblastoma is surgical resection, or the surgical removal of brain tumors. On the other hand, the method has major drawbacks since some brain functions may be damaged and patients become impaired.
Researchers, however, learned that a particular type of tumor cells isare highly resistant to radiation, surgery and chemo therapies. Those cells are the stem cells that help tumors grow despite treatment.
“These tumor stem cells are really the kingpins of cancers – the cells that direct and drive much of the harm done by tumors,”
noted Dr. Kim.
Yet, scientists were able to find a weakness of these cells – they are highly dependent on a protein dubbed SOX2, which is found in healthy stem cells, as well.
So, they managed to disturb tumor stem cells’ regeneration process with help from another protein, CDC20.
Researchers tweaked CDC20 levels in a brain tumor and learned that SOX2 was produced proportionally with the amount of CDC20 available. So, if there was no CDC20 in the tumor, stem cells were not able to produce SOX2 anymore. And without SOX2 stem cells couldn’t form new tumors or help the old ones grow.
Dr. Kim said that some tumors that were deprived of CDC20 saw the rate of growth drop by 95 percent as compared with other tumors that had regular levels of the protein.
The findings were made during a mouse study, but the researchers analyzed several human tumor samples. Patients who had tumors with high levels of CDC20 had the lowest survivability rate, the team noted.
As a follow-up, the research team plans to find new ways of blocking CDC20 in human tumors.
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