Researchers find possible 'master switch' in deadly brain cancer

May 23, 2013 by Josh Barney, University of Virginia

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have identified a promising target for treating glioblastoma, one that appears to avoid many of the obstacles that typically frustrate efforts to develop effective treatments for this deadliest of cancers.

Glioblastomas are the most common form of brain tumor in adults – and the most aggressive. Because of the way the tumors invasively infiltrate the brain, spreading like ivy, they cannot be removed fully by surgery. There is no cure, and few patients survive more than two to three years even with . It was the disease that killed former U.S. Sen. , a U.Va. law alumnus.

The U.Va. researchers, however, have identified a potential "" they believe is essential to the glioblastoma cells. This vital enzyme, they believe, regulates cancer , proliferation and . Inhibit the enzyme, their work suggests, and the cancer cell dies.

"This is an exciting new target in cancer," U.Va.'s Dr. Benjamin W. Purow said. "It seems to have potential not just for , but for other cancers as well. We think it has activity on its own, but also in combination with other cancer therapies."

Glioblastoma is difficult to treat because it is persistent, aggressive and resourceful. Efforts to block its pathways are often unsuccessful because the cancer simply uses others. That has researchers looking for ways to inhibit multiple pathways at once, or targeting critical signaling nodes that control multiple pathways.

"We're finding that we're not having a lot of luck, often, when we just inhibit a single target in , so we're really interested in finding master switches," Purow said.

He thinks he's found one: Diacylglycerol kinase alpha. By targeting this -modifying enzyme, the U.Va. researchers believe they can inhibit and kill glioblastoma cells and other forms of cancer, such as .

Promisingly, the researchers already have identified a drug that targets the enzyme. The federal Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved its use, but previous tests, when it was being evaluated for other purposes, have suggested the compound is safe for use in people.

"We think we have at least an initial way into patients," Purow said. "We may ultimately want to come up with more powerful inhibitors, or more targeted inhibitors of DGKα, and I think those will be some future directions – but there are a lot of exciting ways we're going with this."

For now, the U.Va. researchers will continue to explore their new discovery, investigating it further and ensuring safety before testing it in humans. But that they have a drug compound in hand should speed the process, Purow said.

"I'm hoping we can start doing phase I trials in people within a couple of years," he said. "I think that's a realistic time frame. I'd couch that by saying that's our goal – but we think that's feasible."

Purow emphasized that the discovery isn't a cure for glioblastoma or other cancers. But he said it might prove to be a formidable new "tool in the toolbox" to complement existing treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

"We're optimistic that this may have an impact on cancer course and may help sensitize to other treatments as well," Purow said. "I hope it can make a difference for people."

The findings have been published online by the journal Cancer Discovery.

Explore further: Study finds new targets for drugs to defeat aggressive brain tumor

Related Stories

Study finds new targets for drugs to defeat aggressive brain tumor

December 14, 2012
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers have identified over 125 genetic components in a chemotherapy-resistant, brain tumor-derived cell line, which could offer new hope for drug treatment to destroy ...

Gauging brain cancer survival time may get easier, study says

April 10, 2013
(HealthDay)—Life expectancy of people with aggressive brain cancer may be easier to determine with a new method under development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers say.

Poliovirus vaccine trial shows early promise for recurrent glioblastoma

May 21, 2013
An attack on glioblastoma brain tumor cells that uses a modified poliovirus is showing encouraging results in an early study to establish the proper dose level, researchers at Duke Cancer Institute report.

New drug enhances radiation treatment for brain cancer in preclinical studies

May 14, 2013
A novel drug may help increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy for the most deadly form of brain cancer, report scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center. In mouse models of human glioblastoma ...

A hijacking of healthy cellular circuits

April 8, 2013
Proteins that control cell growth are often mutated in cancer, and their aberrant signaling drives the wild proliferation of cells that gives rise to tumors. One such protein, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), ...

Researchers use a type of stem cells from human adipose tissue to chase migrating cancer cells

March 12, 2013
In laboratory studies, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have found that stem cells from a patient's own fat may have the potential to deliver new treatments directly into the brain after the surgical removal of a glioblastoma, ...

Recommended for you

Study: Cells of three advanced cancers die with drug-like compounds that reverse chemo failure

January 23, 2018
Researchers at Southern Methodist University have discovered three drug-like compounds that successfully reverse chemotherapy failure in three of the most commonly aggressive cancers—ovarian, prostate and breast.

'Hijacker' drives cancer in some patients with high-risk neuroblastoma

January 23, 2018
Researchers have identified mechanisms that drive about 10 percent of high-risk neuroblastoma cases and have used a new approach to show how the cancer genome "hijacks" DNA that regulates other genes. The resulting insights ...

Enzyme inhibitor combined with chemotherapy delays glioblastoma growth

January 23, 2018
In animal experiments, a human-derived glioblastoma significantly regressed when treated with the combination of an experimental enzyme inhibitor and the standard glioblastoma chemotherapy drug, temozolomide.

Scientists block the siren call of two aggressive cancers

January 23, 2018
Aggressive cancers like glioblastoma and metastatic breast cancer have in common a siren call that beckons the bone marrow to send along whatever the tumors need to survive and thrive.

Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant

January 23, 2018
A study headed by ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has identified the genes involved in the latent asymptomatic state of breast cancer metastases. The work sheds light ...

Boosting cancer therapy with cross-dressed immune cells

January 22, 2018
Researchers at EPFL have created artificial molecules that can help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer tumors. The study is published in Nature Methods.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.