What is GBM and how will we find a cure?

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At the start of GBM Awareness Week, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation Dr Karen Noble shares some of the stark facts surrounding this tumour type.

Glioblastoma or GBM is the most common and deadliest type of high-grade brain tumour in adults. This fast-growing tumour is very challenging to treat due to its complex nature and many in our community know only too well the devastation a GBM diagnosis can cause.

The average survival time following a GBM diagnosis is just 12-18 months. Around 25% of patients survive more than one year and 5% survive more than five years. The reason why some people survive so much longer than others is not clear.

Treatment options for GBM are limited and there is no cure. The first option is surgery and this is usually followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

During surgery to remove a GBM a neurosurgeon is limited in how much of the tumour they can remove because this tumour type is ‘diffuse’ – meaning tumour cells invade healthy areas of the brain. The procedure is a delicate balancing act as the neurosurgeon must skilfully judge how much of the tumour can be removed without damaging the healthy brain. That’s why some patients will have an awake craniotomy – you can read more about this fascinating operation here.

The diffuse nature of GBM also means that some tumour cells will always be left behind and continue to grow. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the next stages of treatment.

Glioblastoma under microscope with dyes. Credit: Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London

How will we find a cure for GBM?

GBM is highly varied, complex and challenging to treat. If we are to find a cure, we must invest in the basic discovery research – such as that which Brain Tumour Research is funding at its Centres of Excellence – which is the start of the translational pipeline from scientist’s bench to patient’s bedside. This holds the key to unlocking the complex puzzle that GBM poses.

Pioneering research at our Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London is focused on using GBM stem cells to help develop unique, patient-specific treatments. In the last year, the team led by Professor Silvia Marino has made a significant breakthrough, discovering a new way of analysing diseased and healthy cells from the same patient. This work brings much-needed hope as it could pave the way for truly personalised treatment for patients diagnosed with GBM.

What’s more, an exciting finding from our Imperial Research Centre has the potential to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy for patients diagnosed with GBM. Scientists found that using ADI-PEG20 – a drug that depletes that amino acid arginine – in combination with radiotherapy led to a durable response with extended disease-free survival with no significant toxicity. The next steps are to explore the safety and effectiveness of using this in humans by setting up a new clinical trial.

The Imperial team is also part of a global collaboration looking at how the ketogenic diet can influence GBM metabolism and help in the effective treatment and management of this brain tumour.

At our Plymouth Centre, researchers have identified a range of mutations in brain tumour cells that initiate tumour progression, potentially transforming low-grade gliomas into more immediately life-threatening high-grade gliomas, which include GBM.

As we continue on our mission to increase the UK investment in brain tumour research, we recently announced our plans to launch a new Centre of Excellence and we are now calling for applications.

On Wednesday (20th July) from 6pm – 7pm, we are holding the first of three online presentations to explain the new Centre process and I will be presenting alongside Russell Marriott, our Director of Income Generation. For more information and to find out how you can join, click here.

Our vision is to find a cure for all types of brain tumours, including GBM. Please continue to support us in any way that you can – by donating, fundraising, campaigning, volunteering – so that we can get closer to a cure.

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