Weekly pick of Neuroscience news from around the world

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Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a truly ghastly disease with sufferers predisposed to develop multiple tumours in the brain and along peripheral nerves throughout the body. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre report that their study of tumour samples from people with this rare genetic syndrome has uncovered novel molecular clues about which tumours are most likely to be aggressive. According to the researchers, the clues could advance the search for more customized and relevant treatments that spare patients exposure to treatments unlikely to work.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the pathway for a phase 2b clinical trial assessing an investigative combination therapy for the treatment of patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma. This combination therapy will also include radiation and temozolomide (Temodar). Currently, temozolomide is among just a few therapies approved by the FDA for glioblastoma, and has been shown to provide a median survival advantage of 2.5 months to patients when added with surgery and radiation therapy.

5ALA aka “The Pink Drink”  is a chemical that has improved surgeries for brain cancer by making tumour cells fluorescent but, according to a new study led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) it may also help doctors safely diagnose the disease and monitor its response to treatment. Brain cancer can be especially difficult to diagnose and to monitor after treatment because methods such as tissue biopsies and radiation can injure the brain so the aim here is to develop a less invasive alternative by using 5ALA which patients drink before surgery and which turns their tumours bright pink.

Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from their original site in the body to distant organs and is estimated to cause 80% of cancer deaths — it is currently topical following the recently released Breast Cancer Now report (see our Latest News from 11th October). Few therapies target metastatic brain cancer, which can be seeded by cells from melanomas, breast tumours and other cancers. Malignant cells from other tumours invade the brain with help from an unlikely source: star-shaped ‘treacherous’ cells that are themselves part of the brain. 


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