Researchers are now starting to realize why it is so difficult to prevent specific brain cancers. And here is the reason behind it.
Three claims in the Journal Nature released on Wednesday observed that these lethal tumors incorporate into the electrical network of the brain and then hijack signals from healthy nerve cells to fuel their development.
“They are like vampires,” claims Dr. Frank Winkler, a neurologist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and author of the research, feeding on brain activity.
But the study is also striving purpose. Scientists claim the results indicate that drugs that hinder the activity of individual brain cells or interrupt relations between tumor cells and healthy cells could slow down certain brain tumors.
Two of the three research examined high-grade gliomas, including glioblastoma, cancer that murdered Sen. John McCain in 2018, including Winkler’s.
“High-grade gliomas are an intractable collection of illnesses, and we have made very little clinical progress in treating these horrible brain cancers efficiently,” says Dr. Michelle Monje, associate professor of neurology and neurology at Stanford University and writer of other research.
In 2015, when the brain cells around them became more active, Monje was part of a team that discovered high-grade gliomas to grow quicker.
Monje’s team suspected that was because active neurons produce a substance that acts as fuel for gliomas. So the team put human glioma tumors in the brains of mice that had been genetically altered so they couldn’t provide this substance.
“There wasn’t just a slowing in the tumor growth, but there was a complete stagnation,” Monje states. The study was published in 2017.
In people, though, Monje was pretty sure that high-grade gliomas were somehow causing healthy brain cells to become more active and produce more fuel. And she thought the cancer cells might be doing this by forming connections with healthy neurons and hijacking the electrical signals they provide.
The new studies appear to confirm this, and even show how.
Monje’s team found that some cancer cells were forming synapses — the connections between neurons — that could be seen with an electron microscope. They also found evidence of a more primitive direct link between cancer cells and healthy brain cells.
The research is likely to have a seismic impact on brain cancer research, says Andres Barria, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington who studies synapses and inscribed an editorial accompanying the three studies.
And that discovery could lead to new and better treatments for high-grade gliomas, which now typically kill a patient within two years.
“We hope that by decreasing the electrical signals that the tumors are receiving from the normal brain, that we might be able to complement existing therapies and extend survival and improve quality of life,” Monje remarks.
Journal Reference: Nature