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Linking glioblastomas to DNA-protein parcels

Fast facts

Official title: Chromatin proteins as drug targets for glioblastoma

Lead researcher: Prof. Steve Pollard

Where: MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh

When: September 2016 - August 2021

Cost: £1,481,356 over five years

Research type: Adult, Glioblastoma (High Grade), Academic

Award type: Quest for Cures

What is it?

Previous research has shown that glioblastomas have defects in the mechanisms that control whether key genes are turned ‘on’ or ‘off’. Professor Steve Pollard, in collaboration with scientists from Toronto and Copenhagen, is focusing on these defects, with a particular emphasis on frequent disruptions made in a family of proteins called chromatin regulators, to see how they could be linked to tumour growth.

Chromatin regulators control gene expression. These proteins regulate the entire process of DNA being wrapped tightly into condensed structures called chromosomes.

Chromatin regulators carry the important genetic information that controls how the cells in our body behave. If these regulators become mutated, it changes the way the DNA is wrapped, causing the cell to behave differently.

Professor Pollard’s team will be using the very latest genome editing tools to further their understanding of how these mutations arise and how they affect tumour growth. They’ll particularly look at Trithorax group proteins (a chromatin regulator) and aim to identify which of the 1,000 chromatin regulators should be prioritised for drug development.

They’ll also test drugs that have already been approved for use in other human diseases to see if they can target the chromatin regulators. As these drugs have already been approved for use in humans, they’d can reach brain tumour patients much faster.

Why is it important?

Glioblastomas are the most common, high grade primary brain tumour in adults. With less than 5% of people surviving for five years or more after their diagnosis, the prognosis for this tumour type is dismal. Effective treatment options for these highly aggressive tumours is lacking, which is why we urgently need more research on this tumour type.

There are ongoing efforts to develop new anti-cancer drugs targeting chromatin regulators. So this research project is critical in helping us further our understanding of how these proteins drive glioblastomas and how we can block them.

Who will it help?

This programme of research brings together world-class international researchers with a wealth of expertise in genetics, biochemistry and drug discovery. The strengths and knowledge of the scientists and clinicians involved will drive new discoveries and rapid clinical translation of treatments for glioblastoma. Together, this will ultimately help to improve survival and quality of life for people with a brain tumour.

Milestones

Achieved

  • The research team have created and optimised all the lab techniques that are needed for this research project.
  • The team have screened for chemical and genetic compounds to find potential new drugs and identified a type of drug called HDAC inhibitors.
  • The team have discovered new gene regulators and how they bind to their target.

Upcoming

  • The research team are going to continue to investigate the new gene regulators to determine if they could be targeted with drugs.
  • The team will further investigate the HDAC inhibitor drugs and test them in pre-clinical models to see if they’re effective in targeting and destroying the tumour.

If you have any questions about this, or any of our other research projects, please contact us on research@thebraintumourcharity.org

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Research is the only way we will discover kinder, more effective treatments and, ultimately, stamp out brain tumours – for good! However, brain tumours are complex and research in to them takes a great deal of time and money.

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Professor Pollard explains how he and his group are exploiting the latest genome editing technologies that have opened up new opportunities for understanding the biology of glioblastomas (GBM).