One of the deadliest forms of brain cancer is glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), which is notoriously difficult to treat. Even with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, the average patient only survives for about 15 months. But researchers may have found a new target for treatment: a gene called TERT.
TERT is a cancer-related gene that helps control telomeres, which are the protective ends of chromosomes. When telomeres get too short, cells can no longer divide and grow, leading to cell death. In cancer cells, TERT helps to keep telomeres from getting too short, allowing the cells to keep dividing and growing out of control.
The new study, published in the journal Science, found that TERT is highly active in GBM cells, and that drugs that target TERT could help to kill these cells and potentially improve patient outcomes.
This is still early-stage research, and it will take some time to develop drugs that target TERT. But the new study provides a promising starting point for developing new treatments for this aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer.
Scientists have long sought new ways to treat glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive and deadliest form of brain cancer. Despite advances in surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the average life expectancy for patients with GBM is just 15 months.
Now, a team of researchers led by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has identified a gene that may serve as a new target for treatment of this brain cancer.
The study, published September 8, 2016 in the journal Oncotarget, found that the gene, known as integrin alphaV, is overexpressed in GBMs. When the researchers inhibited this gene in mouse models of GBM, the growth of the tumor was slowed.
“This study provides the first evidence that integrin alphaV may play a role in the development and progression of GBM,” said senior author Roger Stupp, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Since this gene is overexpressed in a majority of GBMs, inhibiting it could potentially offer a new therapeutic strategy for this disease.”
GBM is the most common primary brain tumor in adults. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 23,820 new cases of brain and other nervous system cancers in the United States in 2016, and approximately 14,080 people will die from these diseases.
While the cause of GBM is unknown, the tumor typically arises from cells in the brain known as astrocytes. These cells support nerve cells by providing them with nutrients and removing waste products. When they become transformed into cancer cells, they divide rapidly and form aggressive tumors.
The standard treatment for GBM is surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. However, the cancer almost always comes back, and patients typically die within 15 months of diagnosis.
In an effort to find new targets for treatment, the UC San Diego team examined the expression of more than 500 genes in tissue samples from patients with GBM. They found that integrin alphaV was overexpressed in 78 percent of the tumors.
The researchers then performed a series of experiments in mouse models of GBM. When they inhibited integrin alphaV, the growth of the tumor was slowed.
“This is an important finding because it suggests that integrin alphaV may play a role in the development and progression of GBM,” said Stupp. “Inhibiting this gene could potentially offer a new therapeutic strategy for this disease.”
The next step is to develop a drug that can specifically target integrin alphaV. The team is currently working on this and hopes to begin clinical trials in the near future.
“We are hopeful that this new approach will improve the prognosis for patients with this devastating disease,” said Stupp.