In a groundbreaking finding that has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of cancerous brain tumors, a team of scientists from the San Francisco Medical Centre at the University of California has discovered a crucial link between cancerous cells and healthy brain cells. This connection leads to hyperactivity within the tumor and contributes to rapid cognitive decline and mortality among patients.
The team, led by Saritha Krishna, an esteemed Indian researcher, also identified a commonly used anti-seizure medication that effectively reduces the hyperactivity of tumor cells and even halts their growth. Their findings, published in the prestigious scientific journal “Nature,” provide a new avenue for targeted therapies and offer hope to patients battling brain cancer.
The research sheds light on the communication between healthy brain cells and cancerous cells, which can be manipulated to slow down or even halt tumor growth. This discovery is especially significant for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most fatal form of adult brain cancer.
During awake-brain tumor surgery, Krishna and her colleague, Shawn Hervey-Jumper, conducted a study to investigate previously unknown mechanisms by which brain tumors infiltrate and modify brain circuitry, leading to a decline in cognitive function in glioma patients. They monitored brain activity in real-time and found that when patients performed language tasks, tumor-infiltrated brain regions were activated, extending beyond the known language areas of the brain.
This unexpected finding demonstrated that cancer cells have the ability to hijack and restructure connections in surrounding brain tissue, inducing hyperactivity and accelerating cognitive decline, ultimately reducing patient survival rates. To gain further insights, the team extensively characterized the connected tumor cells using brain organoids, small bundles of neurons derived from human stem cells, as well as mouse models engrafted with human glioblastoma cells.
Their experiments revealed a crucial role played by a protein called ‘thrombospondin-1’ in neuronal hyperexcitability. Encouragingly, the researchers found that gabapentin, a commonly used anti-seizure medication, successfully reduced this hyperexcitability and halted tumor growth.
This groundbreaking discovery holds tremendous potential for the development of more effective treatment methods for glioblastoma, an exceptionally lethal disease. The newfound understanding of how cancer cells manipulate brain circuitry paves the way for the development of drugs and neuromodulation techniques that can disrupt neuronal connections with cancer cells, effectively halting tumor growth.
Saritha Krishna, the lead author of the paper and a native of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, expressed her optimism, stating, “This research opens up new possibilities for treating glioblastoma and other brain cancers. By targeting the hijacked brain circuitry, we can develop innovative therapies to improve patient outcomes and extend survival rates.”
While further research and clinical trials are needed to fully translate these findings into effective treatments, this breakthrough represents a significant step forward in the fight against brain cancer. With continued dedication and collaboration, the scientific community moves closer to transforming the lives of brain cancer patients worldwide.