New Clues to How Cancers Originate in the Brain

Researchers say a new study may offer hope for future patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. It’s the brain tumor that killed Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy.

Investigators from the University of Toronto discovered that the healing process after a brain injury could spur tumor growth if new cells meant to replace those lost in the injury were derailed by mutations.

The findings could lead to new therapies for glioblastoma patients, according to the researchers. Glioblastoma patients currently have limited treatment options and typically survive only 15 months after diagnosis, on average.

“Our data suggest that the right mutational change in particular cells in the brain could be modified by injury to give rise to a tumor,” said lead researcher Dr. Peter Dirks, head of the Division of Neurosurgery and a senior scientist in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“Glioblastoma can be thought of as a wound that never stops healing,” Dirks said in a university news release. “We’re excited about what this tells us about how cancer originates and grows, and it opens up entirely new ideas about treatment by focusing on the injury and inflammation response.”

The researchers applied the latest RNA sequencing and machine-learning technologies to map the molecular makeup of glioblastoma stem cells.

They found new subpopulations of glioblastoma stem cells that had the molecular hallmarks of inflammation and were co-mingled with other cancer stem cells inside patients’ tumors.