ST. LOUIS, June 13 (UPI) -- Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine have discovered a weakness in brain tumors that can disrupt the spread of cancerous cells in the body.
Tumors that originate in the brain are notoriously difficult to eliminate -- whether through surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Many times after their initial removal, the growths return. Certain cancer stem cells are the reason for this regeneration, but researchers have found a way to cut off the process by eliminating their access to a certain protein.
"This discovery may help us attack the root of some of the deadliest brain tumors," said senior author Dr. Albert H. Kim, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the university. "A successful brain cancer treatment will very likely require blocking the tumor stem cells' ability to survive and replenish themselves."
Kim focuses on glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer that allows a patient only about 15 months to live on average. Glioblastomas are usually removed via surgery, but the procedure poses considerable risk to the patient's brain function.
As an alternative method, Kim and his team studied the cells, noticing that cancer cells in glioblastoma tumors and others make use of a protein known as SOX2. Those cells need another protein, CDC20, in order to make SOX2, and when the second protein is eliminated, so are the cells' ability to form or expand tumors.
"The rate of growth in some tumors lacking CDC20 dropped by 95 percent compared with tumors with more typical levels of CDC20," Kim said.
Researchers discovered that in human patients, those with the highest levels of the initial protein CDC20 have the shortest periods of survival after diagnosis.
After discovering this, Kim and his team are working to innovate a process which will block CDC20 from brain tumors either by RNA interference or other means.
The study is published in the journal Cell Reports and is funded by National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, Voices Against Brain Cancer, the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation, the Concern Foundation and the Duesenberg Research Fund.