Genetic Analysis of Glioblastoma Brain Tumors Can Aid in Treatment Decisions

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Screening glioblastoma brain tumors for two gene variations can reliably predict which tumors will respond to a specific class of drugs, a new study shows. The findings may lead to improved treatment for this devastating disease. The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and appears in the November 10, 2005, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Glioblastomas are the most common malignant brain tumors in adults, and they are notoriously difficult to treat successfully. "The survival with glioblastoma is usually a year on average, and that hasn't improved in a while, so this is a very serious and challenging disease," says Paul Mischel, M.D., of the David Geffen School of Medicine and Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who led the study. While drugs are available to help treat glioblastoma, they often have minimal effect, and doctors usually have time to try only one or two treatments before the disease causes severe impairment. Glioblastomas feature many genetic variations that affect their response to different treatments. Researchers are trying to identify these genetic factors and to tease apart how they affect the disease in order to determine which patients are the most likely to benefit from specific drugs.

In the new study, Dr. Mischel and his colleagues performed genetic analysis on tissue from recurrent malignant glioblastoma patients, 26 of whom responded either very well or very poorly to the drugs erlotinib (Tarceva

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