Gene mutation may be key to beating brain cancer, researchers say

Researchers at UCLA say they may have made a breakthrough in the fight against one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

Glioblastomas are terminal brain tumors with few treatment options and poor timelines for those unlucky enough to be diagnosed.


Researchers at UCLA say they have identified a genetic change that occurs in 60% of those diagnosed with glioblastoma, and that genetic abnormalities could be crucial in developing new effective treatments against the stubborn and aggressive cancer.

“The mutation causes changes in the way lipids are distributed in cancer cells, leaving the cancer cells vulnerable to destruction,” UCLA officials said in a press release. The discovery could lead to a path to developing new treatment options.

David Nathanson was one of the senior authors of the study. He is an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center.

He says every patient’s tumor is different and may have a unique combination of genetic differences, but understanding how genetic changes affect the growth and metabolism of the tumors is critical to identifying future treatment options.

Scientists believe that disrupting the way cancer cells process energy and nutrients to grow and survive may be part of the treatment puzzle.

Glioblastoma has claimed the lives of several notable political figures, including former Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy, as well as President Joe Biden’s son, Beau. “Gilmore Girls” actor Edward Herrmann, Tim Conway of “The Carol Burnett Show” and boy band The Wanted’s Tom Parker also died of the deadly disease.

The average life expectancy after diagnosis is less than two years and the five-year survival rate is less than 5%.

Because of the brain’s natural defenses, treating glioblastoma is incredibly difficult. The need for new and effective treatment options is critical, Nathanson said.

Steven Bensinger, a co-senior author of the study, said this potential breakthrough could also shed light on how diet and other lifestyle factors may influence cancer progression and how patients respond to therapy.

The genetic change that 60% of glio patients all have could potentially be exploited by prescribing a diet that feeds the cancer the “wrong” nutrients, making the tumors more vulnerable to therapy or even reducing tumor growth.

The results of the study and the database of samples tested as part of it have been shared around the world and the database has since expanded. Researchers hope the growing database will help them find “additional relationships between cancer-fighting genes” and the nutrients that fuel them.

The results of the full UCLA study can be found here.

While promising, any new treatment options would be years, if not decades, from the market, but the research is critical to ensuring that one day there will be more options for treating one of the world’s most devastating forms of cancer.

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