According to a new study carried out by the Cancer Research UK funded Cambridge Institute, different types of brain tumours may use strikingly similar approaches to generate and use specific sources energy to survive in the brain.
Using samples from almost 400 patients in order to analyse different tumour types, the results suggest that brain tumours adapt their chemical reactions in very similar ways in order to develop within the brain, despite having originated from very different types of cells and individual brain regions.
Professor John Griffiths, co-lead researcher based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “The revelation that different types of brain tumours appear to be using similar tricks to survive was startling. The next step is to try and understand how these seemingly very different tumour types are able to adapt their energy production to grow. In the future, it might mean that we could develop drugs that specifically damage these survival mechanisms.”
Scientists in our Research Centre of Excellence at the University of Portsmouth have established a research programme examining the changes that occur in the mitochondria in tumour cells within the brain. These are the “batteries” which provide the energy for the tumour cells to grow and divide. The results from their studies complement those from the Cambridge Institute.
The implications of the study are also relevant to research carried out at our Imperial Centre of Excellence, which focuses on the ketogenic diet (KD). It is known that brain tumour cells need high glucose levels to survive. The diet decreases the availability of glucose for the cells and therefore potentially decreases their energy levels which may result in diminished growth. The KD is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and has been used in the clinic for the treatment of refractory paediatric epilepsy. The KD has been shown to have a beneficial effect on pre-clinical models of GBM including enhancing the effects of radiation and chemotherapies.