Science

Aggressive brain cancer fuelled by fat

Pictured: Glioblastoma tumours spread quickly, making them tough to treat. Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Jonathan Learmont

Glioblastoma is the most common and fast spreading form of brain cancer in adults, making up 15% of all primary brain tumours. Depending on how the cancer grows, sufferers can experience symptoms including seizures, impaired vision, and dizziness as a consequence of pressure exerted on the brain. The median life expectancy in adults diagnosed with glioblastoma is 14.6 months, with only 5% living longer than five years.

Currently the most common treatment for glioblastoma involves surgery to remove the tumour followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Although the main tumour can be targeted, surgery often doesn’t remove parts of the cancer that have spread just outside its original border, leading to a 90% rate of recurrence at the original location according to a 2015 study.

Such a bleak prognosis for patients is largely because a single tumour contain many types of cells, each of which are affected differently by therapies.

Research at Cardiff University investigating what fuels these cells has found that slow-cycling cells use fats for energy, while faster spreading cells use sugar. Because slow-cycling cells are often more resistant to current treatments and are found in recurring tumours, this discovery may be important to improving survival rates.

Dr Florian Siebzehnrubl, Research Fellow at the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, Cardiff University, said: “By blocking the slow-dividing cells from absorbing fat we can improve their responsiveness to treatment and in the future develop therapies that are specifically target the slow-cycling cells. This would potentially help improve survival rate in this aggressive form of brain cancer.”

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