We’ve recently seen some compelling results when it comes to destroying brain tumors. A UCLA team blasted tumors with nanoparticles and a Washington University team shut down stem cells in the tumors to prevent them from regenerating. But what if we saw the tumors forming so far in advance that we didn’t need to blast them or worry about their regeneration? A breakthrough from Ohio State University proposes a way to forecast brain tumors long before their onset.
By the time a patient learns that he or she is showing signs of developing a brain tumor, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent it. But Judith Schwartzbaum, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University, can do much better.
“Now, clinicians don’t have any way to detect the tumors until patients have symptoms, which is typically three months before diagnosis. I see something five years before,” she says triumphantly in a recent OSU press release.
How can Schwartzbaum see signals so far in advance? The key lies in the insidious behavior of the tumor in its earliest stages. Before the tumor is even a proper tumor, it begins to suppress the immune system so that it may grow unimpeded. As a result, the body produces less cytokines, or proteins that regulate functions in the immune system. While this behavior may help the tumor grow undetected by the body, the drop in cytokines is a red flag to those who know to look for it. If a tumor is treated as soon as the cytokines drop, 5 years before a traditional diagnosis, it can be completely eradicated before it has a chance to plant its roots.
Furthermore, Schwartzbaum and her team found that increased cytokine activity can dismantle budding tumors if they are small enough.
“This could mean this cytokine interaction has a preventive effect 20 years before a tumor would be likely to develop,” Schwartzbaum speculates. This corroborates earlier studies that had discussed a trend where people with more frequent allergic reactions were less likely to develop brain tumors. As cytokines are produced as part of the immune response, activating or simulating an immune response might be the next step in preventative medicine for this disease.
This work was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and a Research Enhancement and Assistance Program grant from Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC). For more details on funding for research at Ohio State University, peruse our Ohio State University Funding Report:
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