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New method can kill aggressive brain tumors

A team of researchers from the University of Gothenburg, in collaboration with their French counterparts, have achieved a significant breakthrough in combatting glioblastoma, a highly aggressive brain tumor. Through their innovative approach, the researchers have effectively developed a technique to eliminate this tumor by disrupting specific cellular functions using a targeted molecule. By doing so, they induce lethal levels of stress in the cancer cells, leading to their demise.

Cancer cells, particularly those found in aggressive tumors, possess a disrupted and highly stressful existence, lacking the normal control mechanisms that healthy cells maintain. To cope with this stress, cancer cells exploit the cellular mechanisms responsible for regulating protein production and managing the excess proteins they generate. By impeding these exploited mechanisms, the researchers have successfully brought about the death of cancer cells.

''We have now succeeded in stopping this hijacking by inserting a specially developed molecule in the cells that inhibits one of these hijacked adaptive mechanisms in the cancer cells. This causes the cancer to self-destruct."

Swedish-French collaboration

A collaborative effort between Leif Eriksson's team in Sweden and a research group at INSERM in Rennes, France, has yielded significant results. Through the utilization of supercomputers and advanced simulations, the researchers have successfully engineered a modified version of the molecule capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier, which safeguards the brain tissue. The outcome of their study has been published in the scientific journal iScience.

This breakthrough specifically addresses glioblastoma brain tumors, which constitute approximately 45% of all brain tumors and result in around 400 new cases diagnosed annually in Sweden. Throughout the European Union, the yearly incidence amounts to 19,000 cases. Presently, the prognosis for malignant glioblastomas remains grim, with only a small percentage of patients surviving beyond five years following diagnosis and treatment.

"Current cancer treatment involves a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Regrettably, not all cancer cells are eradicated, leading to tumor recurrence. Once the cancer returns, the tumor cells often spread and develop resistance," explains Leif Eriksson.

Studying how it can be used with other cancers

Extensive investigations using the novel approach have yielded exceptionally promising outcomes. The researchers observed that when the new substance was combined with chemotherapy, it proved to be remarkably effective in eliminating tumors entirely while preventing their recurrence. By subjecting the tumors to extreme stress, all cancer cells were eradicated, as demonstrated in animal experiments involving mice, wherein no instances of cancer relapse were observed even after 200 days. Conversely, in comparative experiments using only chemotherapy, the brain tumors resurfaced after 100 days and exhibited rapid growth.

"These groundbreaking findings in brain tumor research could potentially lead to a treatment approach that entirely circumvents the need for surgery and radiation. Furthermore, we have initiated investigations into the applicability of our substance to combat other aggressive tumor types such as pancreatic cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, and specific liver cancers," explains Eriksson.

It is important to note that there exist other forms of brain tumors that develop differently from glioblastomas. Unfortunately, this innovative method is not effective against these particular cancer types.

No side effects

Conventional treatments for brain tumors often carry significant side effects. In contrast, the researchers behind this new treatment have yet to observe any adverse effects associated with the administered substance. The treated animals displayed stable weight, exhibited no noticeable changes in behavior, and showed no signs of liver impairment. While further comprehensive investigations are required, extensive cellular tests have demonstrated that the substance does not exhibit toxicity towards healthy cells, even at high doses.

The research on this molecule will now proceed, encompassing vital tasks such as optimizing the treatment procedure and conducting additional animal experiments. However, Leif Eriksson maintains hope and confidence that the progression towards clinical treatment can be relatively rapid.

"The timeline largely depends on securing sufficient funding to facilitate a smooth execution of the various stages. If I'm optimistic, it could potentially be achieved within five years. Although this timeframe may seem short, it is crucial to note that glioblastomas are nearly universally fatal, so any advancement in medical care represents significant progress," emphasizes Eriksson.


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