Scientists have identified a potential therapeutic target for brain cancer.

They have discovered a protein that is highly expressed in a subgroup of glioblastoma brain tumour cells and show that depletion of this protein increases the survival of mice with these tumours.

Recent studies have increased our understanding of cancer by elucidating some of the differences that exist between tumour cells among patients and even between distinct subsets of tumour cells within the same patient. Evidence suggests there are subgroups of cells - called cancer stem cells or tumour initiating cells - within tumours that are harder to kill with current therapies than other cells within these tumours. Cancer stem cells may in fact be more important to destroy than non-cancer stem cells because they may be responsible for metastasis and for tumour recurrence after therapy. Identifying therapies that specifically target cancer stem cells therefore holds great promise for effective and lasting treatment.

In this study, Dr. Hjelmeland and colleagues from Cleveland Clinic determine that a protein called A20, that has been previously implicated in cell survival, is highly expressed in a population of cells that is enriched for glioblastoma stem cells. They show that decreasing levels of A20 in these cells reduces their growth in cell culture by inducing cell death. Decreasing A20 levels in animal models of brain tumours also increases survival. Using publicly available datasets from human brain tumour specimens, they also determine that increased levels of A20 are associated with poor patient survival. Together, these studies suggest that targeting A20 could be beneficial for human glioblastoma patients.

This work will be published in the online open-access journal PLoS Biology.

More In: Science | Sci-Tech | Health