Brain tumors are the lading cause of death in children and adults under the age of 40, with 16,000 people in the UK diagnosed with a brain tumor annually. However, new research led by the Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Bristol in collaboration with the Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s University Belfast investigated the genetics of brain tumors and could potentially improve patient diagnosis and treatment options as part of a precision medicine approach.
Published in the Journal of Oncology, the researchers extracted the DNA from the brain tumors of 41 patients and the team thereafter characterized the DNA of the tumors. Results were described for different types of tumors before and after treatment. Their study was titled “Clinically actionable insights into initial and matched recurrent glioblastomas to inform novel treatment approaches.”
The research outlines the mutations that are particular to different tumor types. This information is important to enable precision medicine, where a patient would receive therapies tailored to the specific DNA mutations in their tumor.
A key challenge with brain cancer is getting the drugs into the tumor beyond the blood-brain barrier. The new study lists licensed drugs that are already available that could be used as combination therapies to target specific mutations in the future. These drugs can be taken orally and should be better tolerated with less side effects. To ensure patient safety, any new combination therapies would first need to be tested in clinical trials prior to them becoming available to patients.
These findings could show the way for developing new targeted treatments that are more effective. The research also followed the mutations that develop during brain cancer, which could identify new therapy options to be given as the cancer progresses and help to extend patient survival.
Diagnoses and deaths from brain tumors are increasing (Office for National Statistics, 2019). Despite traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, the five-year survival rate for brain cancer patients is 20 per cent, compared with 50 percent as an average for all cancers. Some patients who receive chemotherapy, which can have severe side-effects in some patients, do not respond to treatment. And while other patients respond initially, unfortunately, in most cases, the cancer grows back.
The work was supported by funding from Brain Tumour Bank and Research Fund, Southmead Hospital Charity at North Bristol NHS Trust, University of Bristol Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) and from Brainwaves Northern Ireland (NI). Ethical approval for the study was given by BRAIN UK.
Dr. Kathreena Kurian, Associate Professor in Brain Tumor Research at University of Bristol