News Release

Treatment which ‘switches off’ cancer cells and limits tumour growth, could make aggressive brain tumour easier to treat

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Sussex

Researchers believe they may have found a way to strengthen possible treatments for glioblastoma and reduce the speed at which the aggressive tumour progresses. 

Glioblastoma is the most common primary brain tumour in adults, and, as often resistant to treatment, the most fatal too.

But researchers at the University of Sussex have now provided some hope by demonstrating the potential impacts of differentiation therapy, which can effectively ‘switch off’ the malignant properties of cancerous cells and limit tumour growth.

A new study published in the journal Oncogenesuggests that an inhibitor drug which targets a particular cell protein, could refine therapeutic strategies against glioblastoma, making them more effective. 

Professor of Cancer Cell Signalling Georgios Giamas and doctoral researcher Rosemary Lane at the University of Sussex, worked with researchers from Imperial College London; the Royal College of Surgeons and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland; Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou China; and Genentech and the University of Southern California, in America.  

Their research, funded by the charity Action Against Cancer, focused on differentiation therapy; a method in which malignant cells are ‘switched’ into a more benign composition using drugs. The cells then divide and grow more slowly, limiting tumour growth. 

Professor of Cancer Cell Signalling at the University of Sussex, Georgios Giamas explained: “By slowing or limiting the growth of tumour cells, we essentially make glioblastoma an easier target for more conventional strategies, including surgery and chemotherapies.”

In the study, the researchers tested different drugs which belong to a family of proteins called ‘kinases’. They identified an inhibitor which targets a particular protein (PDGFR) and by altering the expression of downstream targets, it is able to switch glioblastoma cancer cells, and glioblastoma cancer stem cells, into neuronal-like cells and ultimately reduce their proliferation and invasion abilities. 

Furthermore, through in-vivo studies, the team then showed that treatment with this particular drug improved the effect of temozolide (TMZ), the main chemotherapeutic drug used to treat brain cancers like Glioblastoma. 

Professor Giamas said: “New treatment options are urgently needed for glioblastoma and over recent years, differentiation therapy has been proposed as an alternative bringing new hope to researchers, medical professionals and patients alike. 

“We’ve not only identified a potential drug which limits the tumour growth by effectively ‘switching off’ their malignant characteristics, but also demonstrated an improved effect on an existing chemotherapeutic cancer drug. 

“As a result, we believe that differentiation therapy holds great promise as a treatment option which could greatly benefit glioblastoma patients in the future and improve their quality of life during the treatment stages. But, as ever, more research is now needed to explore this area further.”

Director of Fundraising and Communications at Action Against Cancer, Ms Charley Cranmer, said: “We are delighted to support this research that has such potential for helping glioblastoma patents with differentiation therapy, and are thrilled it is progressing so well.”

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