The best hope for patients battling brain cancer is early detection and intervention. A new discovery from OMRF could make diagnosing gliomas easier and might become a cancer-fighting tool.
OMRF researchers Rheal Towner, Ph.D., and Jonathan Wren, Ph.D., collaborated with Randy Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah to find five new biomarkers which could be used to diagnose and grade a type of brain tumor called a glioma. Their work is published in the journal Neuro-Oncology.
“Finding the tumor is important, but it’s also vital for physicians to know if the tumor is a high-grade or low-grade glioma,” said Towner, director of OMRF’s Advanced Magnetic Resonance Center. “Low-grade gliomas are less malignant, whereas high-grade gliomas grow faster and are harder to define.”
Using an MRI machine, physicians can use physical biomarkers to locate and assess tumors, however it is also important to use molecular biomarkers. Low-grade and high-grade gliomas require different treatment strategies, Towner said.
Wren used a computer program he designed called GAMMA (Global Microarray Meta Analysis) to predict the function of genes related to gliomas. This “guilt by association” approach found genes that interacted with known cancer genes to create a list of possible biomarkers, he said.
The group then used antibodies to test for the biomarkers in human glioma samples and found that all five are specific to that type of brain tumor. Three of those biomarkers showed up in significantly higher numbers in high-grade gliomas, Towner said.
“The initial use will be in diagnostics, but we think if it’s taken farther, these could be used as anti-cancer agents,” Towner said. “We’re looking at ways to use combined antibody therapy to both target and treat the biomarkers.”
He said the hope is that this approach can hit the tumors at multiple levels, crippling the cancer’s ability to grow, create new blood vessels or invade cells—all at the same time.
“This is the beginning of a long road, but we think it shows promise,” Towner said. “If we see positive results, we might be able to get funding for a pilot study and go on from there.”
Funding for this research was provided by grants No. 1P20GM103636 and 8P20GM103456-09 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of Health.