Scientists further their understanding of how glioma cells adapt and thrive

Scientists from The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, have discovered how glioma tumour cells adapt to low-oxygen environments in the brain allowing them to continue to grow.

In such hypoxic (lack of oxygen) conditions, the tumour cells are able to utilise a protein (Akt) that accumulates in cellular mitochondria, the 'powerhouse' of a cell's energy production. The signalling between this protein and another (PDK1) increases progressively in glioma types and was noticed as being at its highest in glioblastoma.

The process effectively ensures that the tumour cells can continue to grow.

"Hypoxia is a nearly universal hallmark of aggressive tumor growth, and up until now, we really haven't been able to home in on a pathway responsible for this behavior," said Dario Altieri, M.D and director of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center.

"Our study pinpoints a novel way in which tumor cells not only survive but actually continue to divide in spite of a low oxygen environment.

“In essence, this provides a much-needed answer for exactly how tumor cells are able to get the energy they need to persist when faced with unfavorable conditions."

By understanding further how this happens, it's hoped that future targeted treatments on this process will further better outcomes for patients.

"We are excited about our results because there are drugs that exist that specifically target Akt in cancer,” said Young Chan Chae, associate staff scientist.

“These drugs have produced limited clinical responses to date, but we believe with further investigation that we may be able to repurpose these drugs as a viable approach to impair a tumor's ability to adapt to hypoxia."

The findings were published in the journal Cancer Cell.