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National brain tumour research funding needs to increase to £30-35 million a year

New research suggests brain tumour cells ‘self-destruct’ when exposed to synthetic chemical KHS101

According to a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, tumour cells taken from glioblastoma (GBM) patients had their energy supply “shut off” following exposure to a synthetic chemical, KHS101. Potentially, this discovery could help tackle this most devastating form of brain cancer.

Led by the University of Leeds, this laboratory-based research was exploring the possibility that KHS101 could slow the growth of GBM tumours. In fact, they found that KHS101 disrupted the mitochondria, which supplies energy to the cells, and promotes autophagy. Autophagy is the process by which cells identify and dismantle dysfunctional parts of themselves, a behaviour which is somehow prevented in cancer cells and hence allows tumours to grow. The fact that the cells “woke up” to the fact that they needed to self-destruct is a very exciting discovery, and one which left researchers surprised".

Molecules that target the way that cells function (cell metabolism) hold great promise because they are not dependent upon targeting a specific genetic mutation. Indeed, this study showed that KHS101 was able to influence a number of different forms of GBM tumours, independent of their genetic profiling. If this result can be reproduced and translated into humans, it could potentially help all GBM patients rather than just a specific group within that patient population.

Another important finding from this research was that further testing of KHS101 in human derived mice models also proved fruitful, with the chemical successfully crossing the blood brain barrier and decreasing tumour growth by 50%. Crucially, normal brain cells were left unaffected. This indicates that there should be few side effects if it can be successfully developed into a drug for use in clinic.

Existing chemotherapy drugs tend to affect all fast-dividing cells and depend upon healthy cells to then repair the damage that is inflicted upon them, hence why patients can experience such wide-ranging side effects. Researchers see this development of drugs that are more targeted towards just the cancer cells as of vital importance to patients, their quality of life, and their long term survival.

In an area which has seen so little progress, and although we are at an early stage, this research must be seen as encouraging. The hope is that further investigation of this chemical could one day extend the lives of GBM patients.

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