Glioblastoma is the most lethal type of brain tumor—and Israeli researchers have found a way to “starve” the tumors and effectively eliminate them in a study done on mice.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University recently published a peer-reviewed study detailing how they discovered the “power source” for the tumors and found a way to shut down the energy feeding them. The researchers are now looking for an already-approved drug that can be repurposed to replicate the results. If they can find an existing drug, it will speed the process of getting it to cancer patients, bringing it to market perhaps within two years.
Brain immunologist Dr. Lior Mayo, who was the lead author of the study published in Brain, said they took a different approach to wipe out the tumors. While most treatments are focused on chemotherapy, the Israeli team looked for a way to “starve” the glioblastoma, cutting off its power source. “Instead, we decided to ask if there’s anything we can change in the tumor’s environment that could harm it,” he explained.
The team focused their attention on astrocytes—star-shaped brain cells that become unusually active around glioblastoma tumors. Dr. Mayo and his Ph.D. students utilized genetic modification to produce glioblastoma tumors in mice and then remove all the astrocytes around the tumor.
“We found that when we did this, the tumors vanished and stayed away for as long as we repressed the astrocytes,” Mayo said. “In fact, even when we stopped suppressing the astrocytes, some 85 percent of the mice stayed in remission. However, among the control group, in which all astrocytes remained, all mice died.”
The science seems to indicate “that targeting astrocyte immunometabolic signaling may be useful in treating this uniformly lethal brain tumor.”
The astrocytes team up with the tumors in two ways—one, they hijack immune cells that try to destroy the tumors by secreting a protein that enables the cancer to basically disguise itself; and two, they “feed” the tumors cholesterol, their main source of energy.
“We found that astrocytes supply energy needed for the growth of the tumor, by secreting cholesterol. They synthesize the cholesterol into energy and send it to the tumor cells, which then use it as an energy source,” Mayo said.
Dr. Mayo said that he and his team are now looking for an existing drug that can be repurposed to bring this breakthrough to human patients. “We’re optimistic!”