Destroying a tumor is sometimes only the beginning when it comes to fighting cancer. We’ve seen a UCLA team eradicate tumor remnants in the bloodstream and a Cincinnati researcher who developed a method to prevent breast cancer tumors from leaving behind stem cells from which they could regenerate. Now a team at Washington University in St. Louis has discovered a way to shut down the stem cells in the tumors of brain cancer.
The team is particularly interested in the brain cancer glioblastoma, which afflicts more than 18000 people in the United States each year. Only 30 percent of patients survive more than two years, and the average survival time after diagnosis is two years. Glioblastoma is notoriously difficult to treat because most treatments leave a few hardy stem cells behind, which eventually regenerate the entire tumor.
“A successful brain cancer treatment will very likely require blocking the tumor stem cells’ ability to survive and replenish themselves,” says Albert Kim, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon at Washington University. He and his team looked into ways to do this and found that the stem cells were particularly reliant on a protein known as SOX2.
(WUSTL Neurosurgeon Albert Kim, MD, PhD. Photo courtesy WUSTL)
In addition, Kim discovered that SOX2 levels in the tumor are directly related to the levels of another protein, CDC20. In mouse experiments, he found that increasing CDC20 also increased SOX2, which in turn increased tumor growth. Conversely, eliminating CDC20 left the tumor unable to produce SOX2, which prevented the tumor stem cells from regenerating a new tumor.
“The rate of growth in some tumors lacking CDC20 dropped by 95 percent compared with tumors with more typical levels of CDC20,” says Kim in a recent WUSTL press release. These results prompt Kim and his team to look for ways to eliminate CDC20 in existing brain tumors. Kim is currently considering using RNA interference, which blocks the production of specific proteins is blocked in the cell.
This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health; the American Cancer Society; Voices Against Brain Cancer; the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation; the Concern Foundation; and the Duesenberg Research Fund. For additional information about funding for research at Washington University in St. Louis, read our free WUSTL Funding Statistics Report, available via the link below:
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