Dartmouth researchers have discovered an important link between a specific protein and a glioblastoma multiforme. This tumor is a deadly type of brain cancer.
According to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, the protein the scientists identified is known as STK17A. When they analyzed biopsied samples of brain tissue, they found that the tumors contained high levels of this protein. They concluded that the more STK17A in a tumor, the worse a patient’s projected outcome. The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Researchers in San Diego.
Glioblastoma multiformes are fast-growing malignancies that develop from star-shaped glial cells, whose role is to support nerve cells, says the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. These tumors are classified as grade IV astrocytomas and generally respond poorly to treatment. Due to a typical survival rate of 15 months or less after diagnosis, healthcare providers consider them a devastating type of brain cancer.
As of 2012, nearly 23,000 adults receive a diagnosis of brain or other nervous system tumors a year. Almost 14,000 of them end in death. Glioblastoma multiformes typically develop in people between 45 and 70 and represent around 15 percent of brain tumors.
Among those who succumbed to this type of brain cancer was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, according to the New York Daily News. Despite receiving the top medical care available, he lost his battle 15 months after diagnosis. One reason doctors remain so pessimistic about this type of cancer is that it continues to grow after surgery.
Because current treatments based on genetic information cannot effectively treat this type of malignancy, researchers are focused on discovering new molecular targets. The Dartmouth team found that when they attempted to shut off STK17A, the rate of cancer cell growth declined. Cutting the amount of the protein also caused interference with the ability of tumor cells to travel and invade other regions of the brain.
Despite some progress in extending the average survival time of patients in recent years, experts overall consider a glioblastoma multiforme an unstoppable form of cancer and an extremely dreaded condition. The Dartmouth research, which took place as part of the school’s Program of Experimental and Molecular Medicine, is the first step in investigations aimed at understanding the role of this protein and whether regulating it could improve survival statistics.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.