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

Breakthrough could see HIV and AIDS drugs used to treat low-grade brain tumours

A new breakthrough from our Centre of Excellence at the University of Plymouth could see drugs developed to treat AIDS and HIV used to treat low-grade brain tumours.

The discovery, which has been funded by Brain Tumour Research, is significant because, if further research is conclusive, the anti-retroviral drugs could be prescribed for patients diagnosed with meningioma and acoustic neuroma (also known as schwannoma).

In this study Dr Sylwia Ammoun, Senior Research Fellow, and her collaborator, Dr Robert Belshaw, at Plymouth Centre which is directed by Professor Oliver Hanemann and which provided access to the lab, equipment and NF2 expertise, investigated the role that specific sections of our DNA play in tumour development. Named ‘endogenous retrovirus HERV-K’, these sections of DNA are relics of ancient infections that affected our primate ancestors, which have become stable elements of human DNA.

Prof Hanemann said: “High levels of proteins produced by HERV-K DNA have previously been linked to the development of different tumours. In this study, the team showed that high levels of HERV-K proteins were present in meningioma and schwannoma cells obtained from patients. The team was also able to identify molecular events that may enable HERV-K proteins to stimulate the growth of these tumours. Furthermore, several drugs were identified that target these proteins, reducing the growth of schwannoma and grade I meningioma cells in the laboratory. Significantly, these drugs the retroviral protease inhibitors ritonavir, atazanavir, and lopinavir – have already been approved by the for use in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the USA and are also available in the UK. These results revealed HERV-K proteins to be critical regulators of growth in tumours that are deficient in Merlin.”

Our spokesman Hugh Adams said: “These findings are extremely significant as drug repurposing is a valuable way to accelerate the testing of new approaches into clinical trials which, if successful, could reach patients sooner.

“This is particularly critical for patients with brain tumours as many of them do not have the luxury of time.”

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