Cleveland Clinic researchers have identified a cellular pathway that cancer stem cells use to promote tumor growth in malignant glioma, an aggressive brain tumor. The research – published in the July 8, 2011 issue of Cell – also found that existing medications block this cancer-promoting pathway and delay glioma growth in animal models, suggesting a new treatment option for these often fatal brain tumors. Malignant gliomas account for more than half of the 35,000-plus primary malignant brain tumors diagnosed each year in the United States. Unfortunately, the outlook for patients with malignant gliomas is poor. For patients with the most severe, aggressive form of malignant glioma (grade IV glioma or glioblastoma multiforme), median survival is 9 to 15 months with the best available therapies. These treatments include surgery followed by radiation therapy with the chemotherapy temozolomide followed by additional temozolomide treatment. Although differences in tumors between people were known to exist, researchers have only recently begun to understand the importance of differences between cancer cells within the same patient. Groups of cells within a glioma which promote brain tumor formation in animal models – called cancer stem cells – have been identified. These cancer stem cells are often resistant to radiation and chemotherapy, making them an important target for developing new and effective disease treatments. In the recently published manuscript, a team of Cleveland Clinic researchers – led by Dr. Jeremy Rich, Chairman, and Dr. Anita Hjelmeland, of the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine of the Lerner Research Institute of Cleveland Clinic – define a novel molecular pathway that cancer stem cells use to promote tumor growth.
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