SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Glioblastoma is one of the most complex, deadly, and treatment-resistant cancers: a tumor with tentacles that spread throughout the brain. Most treatments for these invasive brain tumors include surgery, chemo, and radiation. But now, doctors are learning what’s being used to kill the cancer, may actually be causing it to grow back.
Fran Noonan knew right away she was in for the fight of her life.
“I wouldn’t accept it,” she says.
Immediately, she was taken into surgery and followed it with chemo and radiation. Five months later, the tumor came back.
“These are essentially lethal brain tumors,” explains radiation biologist and professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas, Sandeep Burma, PhD.
Ninety percent of glioblastomas come back within just a few months. Now, researchers believe that even though radiation is the most effective treatment used to kill it, it may actually cause glioblastomas to come back.
Professor Burma emphasizes, “You cannot really avoid injury to the normal tissue surrounding the brain, especially because the normal tissue surrounding the brain also has to be irradiated in order to get rid of the infiltrating tumor cells.”
Professor Burma found that when radiation hits the brain tissue surrounding the tumor, normal brain cells age prematurely, causing the cancer to grow more quickly and more aggressively. It’s called senescence.
“The recurrent tumor could be, perhaps, even more resistant to the second line of therapy,” Professor Burma further explains.
Professor Burma’s team is now trying to stop that from happening by using a type of drug called Senolytics to clear the aging cells after radiation. In preliminary studies, it shows it could give patients a second chance at beating this deadly disease.
So far, Professor Burma’s studies have only been done in mice. But he believes that not only will the research have an impact on how we treat glioblastomas in the future, but many other cancers as well.
Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer, Editor.
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TOPIC: KILLING WHAT KILLS CANCER: STOPPING GLIOBLASTOMAS FROM COMING BACK
REPORT: MB #5070
BACKGROUND: Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. Glioblastoma forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. Glioblastoma can occur at any age but tends to occur more often in older adults. It can cause worsening headaches, nausea, vomiting and seizures. Glioblastoma is the most common malignant brain and other CNS tumors accounting for 47.7 percent of all cases. Glioblastoma has an incidence of 3.21 per 100,000 population.
DIAGNOSING: Because glioblastomas grow quickly, pressure on the brain usually causes the first symptoms. Depending on where the tumor is, it can cause constant headaches, seizures, vomiting, double or blurred vision, or trouble speaking. A neurologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating brain disorders) will give you a complete exam. You may get an MRI or CT scan and other tests, depending on your symptoms. Doctors don’t group glioblastoma by stages. Instead, they give all brain cancers a “grade.” It ranges from 1 to 4. The grade is based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope and how likely they are to reproduce. Glioblastomas are always recognized as grade 4 brain cancer. That’s because this type is very aggressive and the cancer cells multiply quickly.
NEW THERAPY: A new clinical trial from a team at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center uses innovative basic science research methods to offer hope and a new treatment to glioblastoma patients. A collaborative team of Rogel physicians, led by Daniel Wahl, M.D., Ph.D., hopes that grounding their trial in rigorous and innovative biology from the very beginning will help this approach succeed where so many other potential glioblastoma treatments have failed. The clinical trial, which began in August 2020, has its foundation in Wahl’s medical training and Ph.D. studying metabolism, all performed at UM. While taking care of glioblastoma patients during a residency in radiation oncology, Wahl saw firsthand the consequences of these aggressive treatment-resistant brain tumors. Most glioblastoma patients live less than a year-and-a-half from diagnosis, and fewer than 5% live five or more years. The trial still has a long way to go, and Wahl and his team hope to figure out a safe dose of mycophenolate that can be used alongside radiation and chemotherapy, and to get a hint of whether that dose might improve patient outcomes, in the next few years. Then, they’ll be able to decide if the trial is ready to move to a randomized clinical trial, which would require hundreds of patients from across the country. The team is currently designing this phase with the Alliance for Clinical Oncology, a national cooperative group.
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