August 30, 2017

Tracking glioblastoma as it develops

Dr. Peter Dirks

An international team of scientists have used an innovative barcode-like system to track the behaviour of individual glioblastoma cells, allowing them to see how the cells of this deadly form of brain cancer have successfully evaded treatment and how they spread.

Glioblastomas are complex and often incurable brain cancers that affect about 1,500 adults and 150 children in Canada each year. They are notorious for their ability to evade treatment, and as a result, despite many years of research, prognosis for most glioblastoma patients remains a little over a year.

Now a group of scientists working in Canada and the U.K. have found a new approach to better understand how glioblastomas grow over time. They have tracked the development and behaviour of individual brain cancer cells and their progeny using a novel barcode-like system and, as a result, identified possible new ways of treating the disease.

These “barcodes” allow scientists to mark each cell and track them, establishing how they contribute to the tumour’s growth. This information is useful to better understand how glioblastomas are evading current treatments and how they are spreading to healthy brain cells.

“The approach we took is like the difference between looking at the final score in a sports match when it is over, to watching the game unfold in real time,” says the study’s co-principal investigator, Dr. Peter Dirks, Staff Neurosurgeon and Senior Scientist at SickKids and co-leader of OICR’s Brain Cancer Translational Research Initiative (TRI). “Sometimes the final score doesn’t really tell us how the match unfolded, and this approach is like analyzing the individual performance of each player during the game. By neutralizing the star players, we can win over glioblastoma.”

The study was published online today in the journal Nature.

Funders for this study include the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Canada and SickKids Foundation; and in the United Kingdom, research was funded by the Wellcome Trust with additional core support from Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council.

News release from Sick Kids

For more about Dirks’ research in the OICR Brain Cancer TRI, see: https://oicr.on.ca/research-portfolio/brain-cancer/