Researchers find new brain cancer target

A team of researchers in Singapore has found a strand of genetic material that could help doctors learn more about a patient's outcome in glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer in adults, and lead to drugs to defeat the cancer.

Researchers are becoming increasingly interested in cancer stem cells as drug development targets--these cells could be involved in metastasis, disease recurrence, and resistance to cancer drugs. In this study, led by researchers at the Institute of Biology (part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*STAR), the researchers found a strand of genetic material, called microRNA-138 (miR-138), that could be used as a marker for tumor-initiating glioma stem cells (GSCs), which are resistant to cancer chemotherapy.

When the researchers used an antibody to cut the levels of miR-138, they found that it blocked cancer growth both in plates on the bench and in experimental animals, and reduced the survival of the glioma stem cells. While it is still very early, this could be a potential drug target for this hard to treat and deadly form of cancer, as well as a prognostic biomarker--patients diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme often do not live for more than 12 to 14 months.

Prabha Sampath of the Institute of Biology said: "In this study we have identified a master regulator, miR-138, which is essential for the progression and relapse of a deadly form of brain cancer. By targeting this regulator, we can effectively prevent the recurrence of this lethal form of cancer. This promising finding will pave the way for the development of a novel therapy to successfully treat the aggressive forms of brain cancer."

- read the press release
- see the abstract