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Cancer Stem Cells Could Hold Key to Brain Tumor Therapy

Stem cell-like glioma cancer cells that share many characteristics with normal stem cells propel the lethal growth of brain cancers by promoting tumor blood vessel// formation, and may hold the key to treating these deadly cancers, a research team reported in the August 15th issue of Cancer Research.

Led by Jeremy Rich, M.D., associate professor at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, the researchers found that a small subset of glioma cells expressed higher levels of a growth factor associated with cancer cell growth. They believe this subset could be a target for new therapies against these intractable brain tumors.

Gliomas are the most common type of brain tumor, making up about half of all diagnosed primary (or non-metastatic) brain tumors. About 17,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with a primary brain tumor each year. Patients with the most aggressive glioma, called glioblastoma, have an average life expectancy of less than one year despite advances in cancer treatment. To better treat cancer patients, laboratories like those of Rich are trying to better understand the causes of tumor growth so that gliomas can be targeted with new drugs.

“Malignant brain tumors are highly lethal, despite aggressive surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy,” said Dr. Rich. “We believe targeting the cancer stem cells of brain tumors may offer a novel therapy that will help to decrease the blood supply feeding a growing tumor, and therefore decrease or stop that tumor’s growth.”

Researchers from other laboratories recently determined that a small fraction of all the cells in a glioma have special characteristics similar to brain stem cells. These stem cell-like glioma cells form tumors when implanted in animals. As the ability to form new blood vessels (called angiogenesis) to supply blood carrying nutrients is critical in cancer growth, Dr. Rich’s team studied if the formation of tumors by stem
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