RCSI discovery may lead to better treatments for brain cancer

6 Dec 2022

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Three new subtypes of glioblastoma – the most common form of adult brain cancer – have been discovered, which could improve precision medicine.

Irish scientists have discovered new subtypes of brain tumours, which could lead to the development of more precise treatment for incurable brain cancer.

Researchers based in the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences conducted a study that found three new subtypes of glioblastoma – the most common and aggressive form of adult brain cancer, which currently has no known cure.

Categorisation of the three tumour subtypes is based on the different non-cancer cells found within the tumour, also known as tumour microenvironment cells. These can include immune cells or blood vessel cells.

Treatment of glioblastoma today is largely done with no variation to account for the different subtypes. But this latest RCSI discovery has the potential to find treatments for patients that are specific to their tumour type – a method known as ‘precision medicine’.

For example, patients with the tumour subtype defined by high levels of immune cells might receive immune-targeting therapies.

“Glioblastoma patients currently have a poor prognosis due to limited treatment options, so it is vital that new treatments be developed,” said senior author and lead investigator Prof Annette Byrne, who heads the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group.

“Targeted treatment or precision medicine has the potential to improve outcomes for these patients. We hope further analysis of the tumour subtypes identified in this research will provide the data needed to support future glioblastoma clinical trials in Ireland.”

The study was published today (6 December) in the Annals of Oncology. Its first authors are Kieron White and Dr Kate Connor from the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group.

Funded by Horizon 2020, the discovery is a result of collaboration with the National Centre of Neurosurgery, Beaumont Hospital Dublin, members of the Gliotrain brain tumour research consortium and several clinical collaborators from leading US brain tumour research centres.

Last month, RCSI scientists made a discovery could lead to new treatments for blood clotting disorders such as Von Willebrand disease, deep vein thrombosis and myocardial infarction.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic