Scientists have recently made a major breakthrough in their understanding of just how fatal brain tumors grow. This could lead to improved treatment for patients. Experts found cells within a malignant brain tumor known as “glioma” rely on fats in order to fuel tumor growth. This contradicts previous scientific findings that stated that tumor cells require mostly sugar in order to create energy.
Glioma is the most common form of primary malignant brain tumor in adults and is one of the most difficult cancers to treat. There are about four cases for every 100,000 people each and every year. New discoveries offer a unique view of the biology of brain cancer cells, which offers very significant implications for the understanding of tumor behavior and improved treatments for the condition.
During the study, researchers used tumor tissue which had been donated by patients who were undergoing surgery as well as mouse models of the disease. The complete publication can be found in Neuro-Oncology journal, which was published yesterday.
Dr. Elizabeth Stoll from Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience is the lead author of the study. She says patients with malignant glioma currently receive a poor prognosis, and new interventions are desperately needed to increase the survival and quality of life for patients with the condition. Their results provide new insight into the fundamental biochemistry of cancer cells, with exciting implications for patients in the future. Most cells within the adult brain require sugars to produce energy and sustain function. Interestingly, they have discovered that malignant glioma cells have a completely different metabolic strategy as they actually prefer to break down fats to make energy. These findings provide a new understanding of brain tumor biology, and a new potential drug target for fighting this type of cancer.
During the study, scientists were able to show that glioma cells grow far slower if they are treated with a drug called Etomoxir. This prevents the cells from making energy with fatty acids. The finding provides enough evidence to pursuit new therapeutic avenues to target fatty-acid metabolism in the clinical treatment of brain tumors to slow the progression of the disease. It is unknown at this time whether nutrition or diet influences tumor growth, which is something that must be studied in the future.
Dr. Stoll said they tested Etomoxir in an animal model and it showed that systemic doses of this drug slow glioma growth, prolonging median survival time by 17%. These results provide a novel drug target which could aid in the clinical treatment of this disease for patients in the future.
Stem cells were isolated from brains of mice and mutated in order to transform them into cancer cells. The mutations were similar to those that normally accumulated to form glioma tumors in people. The malignant cells were implanted into mice of the same genetic background as those of the donor mice, letting the team assess the speed and growth of the tumor.
Dr. Stoll and her team plan to continue to carry out future studies in order to help develop the drug with clinical partners, so that glioma patients may be able to benefit from the research. While it’s difficult to offer an exact timeframe, the team is fairly confident they should have further positive results to offer within the next few years.