Researchers from the University of Arizona have been examining and comparing glioblastoma cells from long- and short-term survivors and noticed a subtle difference in genetic configurations. Samples from those who survived longer presented a protein that might be targeted to increase survival in all glioblastoma patients.
With current standard treatment, meaning surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation, adults suffering from this aggressive brain cancer only survive on average between 11 and 15 months. There are cases of survivors lasting many more months and even years longer, and it’s exactly this disparity that intrigued doctors.
Among 800 genes from 23 glioblastoma samples, the team identified the WIF-1 gene, which produces the WIF-1 protein, as an important inhibitor of the Wnt pathway and a strong predictor of long-term survival.
“The Wnt pathway is deranged, and WIF-1 is the police. Cancer grows when there aren’t enough police to keep the deranged person in check”, said Baldassarre Stea, MD, Ph.D. head of the UA College of Medicine. “Some people are endowed with more WIF-1 and survive longer”.
The disease has a special ability to repair its DNA damage, diminishing the effectiveness of radiation. Increasing the dosage is not an option as in most cases the threshold has been reached. The only solution is to make the tumors more vulnerable, and this can be achieved by inhibiting the Wnt pathway.
“The cure will not come from more radiation or more surgery — glioblastoma is a genetic problem that we have to solve genetically”, noted Dr. Stea.
Even though this was an important breakthrough, expanding on these findings will require time and funding, which is why the team has already applied for several grants. The next step is holding clinical trials with a larger sample population in order to find adequate inhibiting drugs.