Weekly pick of brain tumour research news from around the world

2 min read

We are delighted to begin this week’s roundup with recently published news from our Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) research centre.

Microglia are a type of neuroglia, or glial cell, located throughout the brain and spinal cord. They are also scavenger cells, (cells responsible for detecting, engulfing and destroying pathogens – bad guys!) and act as one of the main forms of active immune defence in the central nervous system – they are the good guys.

GBM initiating cells have been found to trigger a reaction in the microglia that hinders effective T‐cell infiltration, proliferation and immune reactivity, thereby contributing to tumour immune evasion and promoting tumour growth. A group of molecules, known as mTOR pathway, play a crucial role in this. Essentially GBMs are turning the good guys around them, in the tumour microenvironment, bad!

The extension from this work is that targeting mTOR pathway in microglia could be a way to turn these molecules back on to doing what they should be doing and halt tumour progression.

The team at QMUL will now be further examining the mechanisms involved, looking at how to target the pathway that the GBM cells interfere with, in pre-clinical models, which if successful would pave the way for future clinical trials. Professor Silvia Marino, the report lead author, says this shift of focus from the tumour to its microenvironment, and the possibilities it could offer is “realistically exciting”

The paper is published in a leading high impact journal, The EMBO Journal, and you can read more here.

Korean researchers say they have developed a novel nanotherapy that could target GBM, the most common malignant brain cancer. To treat GBM clinicians generally use palliative therapy, such as chemotherapy but the low organ specificity and poor penetration yield through the blood-brain barrier of drugs causes many side effects. The scientists here looked into nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems (DDS) and used porous silicon nanoparticles as the new platform of the nanotherapy.

A cheap and widely available drug, the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone, is a major breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19 UK experts have said. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-53077879

The drug is part of the world's biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus. About 19 out of 20 patients with coronavirus recover without being admitted to hospital and of those who are admitted, most recover but some may need oxygen or mechanical ventilation, and these are the high-risk patient’s dexamethasone appears to help.

Dexamethasone is a steroid drug that has proven beneficial in reducing the swelling (oedema) caused by some brain tumours. Swelling associated with brain tumours may contribute to the symptoms produced by the tumour including headaches and neurological deficits (such as weakness and loss of speech). Dexamethasone has therefore been prescribed to help to relieve some of these symptoms.

The repurposing of existing drugs is not uncommon and for brain tumour researchers the hope is that drugs that have proved efficacious in other areas may also prove beneficial for brain tumour patients

An innovative use of focused ultrasound is showing promise against glioblastoma. The technique hits cancer cells with a drug that sensitizes them to sound waves, then blasts them with focused ultrasound. The sound waves create tiny bubbles inside the cancer cells, causing them to die. results suggest the technique has substantial potential for treatment of malignant brain tumours  

A simple, non-invasive but highly sensitive blood test has been found to accurately diagnose and classify different types of brain tumours, resulting in more accurate diagnosis, less invasive methods and better treatment planning for patients, in the future.

Current methods to diagnose and establish the subtype of brain cancer based on molecular information rely upon invasive surgical techniques to obtain tissue samples, which is a high-risk procedure and anxiety-provoking for patients. The ability to diagnose and classify the type of brain tumour without the need for a tissue sample is revolutionary and practice changing.

This week’s update really feels positive. If ever there were a time to emphasise the need for sustaining research funding into brain tumours it is now - it feels that at last the dial is being turned and we need your support as we navigate the choppy waters of the pandemic. Should this update have motivated you to do so, you can donate to support our work by clicking here.

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