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

GBM, DNA titbits, MTX110 and a keto restaurant - Worldwide research update

First up some news from the US where a laboratory test has been developed that can accurately pinpoint, capture and analyse the deadliest cells in glioblastoma. It can capture the invasive, proliferating and very mobile cells and could lead to the discovery of new drugs to prevent or slow glioblastoma spreading. The test can also accurately predict which patients have the least or most aggressive form of the disease.

Work in the past 10 years suggests that DNA ‘titbits’, little pieces of DNA floating around chromosomes in cancer cells which are circular, aren’t just some cellular debris. Cancer cells use the circles to rapidly grab or shed genes linked to tumour growth and drug resistance. These circles are known as extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA) and may explain why some tumours, like glioblastoma, are notoriously difficult to treat. Could this be the next big thing in cancer drug discovery?

US researchers have developed a non-invasive exam which detects two genetic mutations linked to gliomas. The test uses a liquid biopsy which looks for fragments of tumour DNA that are circulating in the bloodstream. This technique is not new and has been shown to be accurate in finding other forms of cancer. Until now, however, brain tumour DNA has been much more difficult to pin down because mutant DNA is shed into the bloodstream at much lower level in gliomas than in other types of tumour. The blood test’s level of sensitivity marks a ten-fold improvement over previous tissue-based tests and this increased accuracy in detecting the prevalent mutation in malignant gliomas,  is hopefully opening a new landscape for tumour detection and monitoring.

‘Encouraging headline results’ from the Phase I study of  MTX110 drug treating DIPG could double survival beyond a year. Midatech Pharma and their MTX110 treatment, appear to be making some headway towards tackling DIPG, with positive data being recorded during Phase I trials at the University of California. More of the trial details are available if you click through. Steve Damment, Executive Vice President and Head of Research & Development at Midatech, said: “DIPG is a devastating paediatric brain cancer with limited treatment options and very poor outcomes.  The overall survival data from this Phase I study are encouraging, although further study of MTX110 in DIPG is required to establish whether it can make a difference to these patients and their families.”

Doctors are increasingly looking to the DNA that solid tumours shed into the bloodstream to help with diagnosis and monitoring, but brain cancer has been a different story thanks to the natural blockade created by the blood-brain barrier. However, this research shows that cerebrospinal fluid could be a valuable source for tumour DNA that could help monitor and treat paediatric cancer patients with high-grade gliomas. The amount of tumour DNA in a patient's spinal fluid can help doctors know whether changes observed on a patient's imaging scans are true signs of a tumour's progression or are merely the body's response to cancer treatments. Collection of spinal fluid isn’t currently part of the standard of care, the results of this research could change that.

This is a different piece of research but also focuses on the analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, this time for Medulloblastoma and reveals a potential epigenetic biomarker in cerebrospinal fluid of paediatric medulloblastoma.

Finally,       I thought a keto diet restaurant might be of interest to many of you – here’s the menu – it just around the corner from our Imperial centre in London where the laboratory team led by Dr Nelofer Syed are part of a global network of researchers investigating this long-established medical diet, originally invented for the control of epilepsy at the Mayo Clinic in the 1920s and still used throughout the NHS for children whose seizures are unable to be controlled by medication alone. Dr Syed’s work is starting to shed light on how this high fat, low carbohydrate, adequate protein diet affects the metabolism of brain tumour cells: in other words, how it changes the way that brain tumours use nutrients to provide the energy that they need in order to grow.

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