Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer
Glimmer of hope for a drug to prevent the spread of brain cancer cells
A research team at Virginia Tech may have found a solution to stopping one of the ways that glioma cells spread around the brain. They noticed that in models of glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive form of brain cancer, the interstitial fluid (the fluid between brain cells) is under greater pressure, causing it to move quickly and hence enable cancer cells to spread more quickly around the brain.
Unfortunately this increased flow has also been identified as an unwanted side effect of a particular approach to delivering brain cancer drugs, called convection enhanced delivery. This is when a drug is delivered directly into the tumour using a catheter: so although the drug delivers benefit, the delivery system seems to make the interstitial fluid move even faster than before, potentially enhancing one problem whilst it reduces another.
In an article published in Scientific Reports, the Virginia Tech team report that they have now identified a drug, AMD3100, that can block the fluid’s movement and hence the spread of cancer cells, and are suggesting that it could be delivered alongside any drugs delivered using convection enhanced delivery. They now need to move the research from mouse models into human trials in order to establish if their discovery is as game changing as they hope it will be.
Lead researcher Jennifer Munson has been working towards this discovery for more than 10 years, so this breakthrough shows the importance of long-term investment in early and mid career stage researchers, enabling them to focus their efforts on brain cancer research and gradually build a research team such as this group at Virginia Tech. Her focus on interstitial flow brings a new perspective to complement other teams elsewhere in the world, and only with such a broad approach to this complex disease will we find the combination of approaches that will ultimately lead to the discovery of a cure.
Research and hence research funding takes patience and time: which is incredibly hard to accept when everyone in the whole research community, as well as patients and all of us who care for those patients, want a cure to be found today.
First, you need to support the basic science where researchers observe in great detail how the body works. This is dependent upon every improving technology to be able to discover things not possible to view with the naked eye, and accurate models of brain cancer. Researchers need to be creative and imaginative as well as technologically savvy: to be open to noticing phenomena that may only be obvious if you know what to look for: constantly searching for new perspectives and new ways of interpreting what they observe. You develop a hypothesis, an idea of what this means and how you can potentially influence what you observe, and then it takes time to test that hypothesis: and in the early stages, this may raise as many questions as it answers.
However, only thank to long term, sustainable funding for this kind of basic science are the foundations laid for future clinical trials. Each glimmer of hope and new element of understanding must be welcomed as a piece of the giant, global puzzle that is taking shape in the world of brain cancer. Together we will find a cure.