Protein Could be Key to New Treatment in Brain Cancer

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Scientists have discovered a protein that could be key to the development of new treatment of glioblastoma multiforme, the type of brain cancer that killed the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Glioblastoma multiforme is one of the most common and aggressive brain tumors found in adults.

Approximately 10,000 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in the United States each year. According to the International RadioSurgery Association, glioblastoma multiforme is a grade IV tumor, the most aggressive type of tumor because they contain more than one cell type. While one cell type may die in response to a specific treatment, the other cell types may continue to grow and multiple, which makes this form of brain tumor very difficult to treat.

Glioblastomas comprise 23 percent of primary brain tumors in the United States, and they are the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor in adults aged 45 to 74. Symptoms can include increasing signs of mental dysfunction, new seizures, and persistent headaches. Men develop this form of brain cancer more often than do women. About 50 percent of patients do not survive for more than one year after diagnosis.

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Given this grim scenario, scientists at the University of Central Florida were excited to discover a protein that appears to play a significant role in tumor growth in glioblastoma multiforme. The protein, TRPC6, is found in most if not all cells in the body, and its task is to promote cell growth during development of the central nervous system.

Experiments run on cancerous brain tissue by Sic L. Chan, assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Central Florida, and his team revealed that this protein in strongly expressed and functional in brain tumor cells. The scientists discovered that they could stop the growth and spread of tumors by stopping the expression of TRPC6.

Treatment of glioblastoma multiforme consists of surgical removal of the tumor followed by radiation and chemotherapy. At the American Society for Radiation Oncology meeting in Chicago in November 2009, investigators reported on a new type of imaging called MR spectroscopy coupled with high dose radiation in the form of gamma knife radiosurgery for treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. The scientists found that patients who underwent this novel surgery had an increase in survival by nearly four months compared with patients who were treated with traditional radiotherapy alone.

The National Cancer Institute reports an estimated 22,070 new cases of brain cancer and other nervous system cancers in the United States in 2009, with nearly 13,000 deaths. The work by Dr. Chan and his team is making headway in one sector of brain and nervous system cancers. He noted that their discovery about the protein TRPC6 “may be a promising therapeutic target in the treatment of human GBM [glioblastoma multiforme].”

SOURCES:
International RadioSurgery Association
National Cancer Institute
University of Central Florida (Jan. 1, 2010), retrieved Jan. 2, 2010 from ScienceDaily
University Hospitals Case Medical Center (Nov. 3, 2009), retrieved Jan. 2, 2010 from ScienceDaily

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