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Scientists identify genetic alterations in glioma brain cancers

Identifying genetic alterations in brain cancers

Scientists in Spain have identified a number of genetic alterations within glioma brain cancers, an important research step that will provide further insight into how gene mutations interact, and how susceptible genes are to targeted cancer treatments. This is a great step forward, as it will help scientists to identify which genetic mutations are driving brain cancers, so that treatments and drugs can be developed and targeted that will help to improve chances of survival.

What is glioma brain cancer?

The term ‘glioma’ is used to describe several cancerous tumours within the glial cells in the brain, with glioblastomas being the most common form of tumour.  This type of cancer affects both adults and children, with a survival rate of just 7% for five years following a cancer diagnosis. There are many genetic mutations which can encourage this type of cancer growth, but as more research is conducted, a growing number of cases involving a specific gene known as the BRAF gene are being identified. 

What did the study find?

The study involved 300 glioma patients, 94 of whom were children, and the researchers examined a variety of clinical information, including the treatments received, survival rates, the tumour tissues, and the genetic alterations. The tumours were divided into three groups based on how the BRAF gene altered the signalling pathway that was driving cancer growth. 

Dr Schreck and his colleagues found that BRAF altered brain tumours had different features, with more BRAF fusions found in children, which occurs when the BRAF genes attaches itself to another gene and causes cancer. Although BRAF alterations were found to result in improved survival rates for glioma tumours, this was not reflected within aggressive glioblastoma tumours.

The research also found that tumours driven by BRAF alterations were sensitive to both BRAF and MEK focused treatments, with 6 out of 13 patients who received these inhibitors experiencing the halting or shrinking of the glioma tumour, resulting in an average survival time of almost 14 years. 

Why is this study so important?

This study involved the largest number of glioma cancer patients to date, and although research has been conducted in the past into BRAF alterations, our knowledge does not yet cover the full breath of mutations within the BRAF gene and how patients respond to various treatments.  There are already drugs such as Dabrafenib and Trametinib available, which are able to inhibit BRAF mutations, but research so far has been limited when it comes to knowing which genetic mutation is actually driving the patient’s cancer growth.

Researchers are continuing to make excellent progress, and although drugs which are capable of interrupting BRAF alterations have already had success when treating cancers such as melanoma, they are not yet approved for use with BRAF related glioma cancers. This study is an important step forward and will drive further research into drugs and treatments which are able to tackle this aggressive form of cancer. 

This type of research is the only way that families are going to be able to beat these rare brain tumours, and here at Joss Searchlight we are committed to funding this vital research.

To find out more about how to get involved or to support our charity through a donation, please contact our team today.

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