Understanding the survival mechanism of gliomas

Friday 23 March 2018

Recent research has uncovered a metabolic pathway that could be involved in tumour survival and growth

Gliomas account for more than half of all primary brain tumours. These tumours originate from glial cells, which are cells that provide protection and support for nerve cells within the brain. Despite patients undergoing rigorous treatment regimens that include surgical removal of the tumour, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, tumour survival and growth still persists.

A recent study, funded by The Brain Tumour Charity and led by Dr Daniel Tennant at the University of Birmingham, has found a potential new mechanism by which tumour cells survive and grow.

Previous research has determined that a mutation in an enzyme called isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) is oncogenic, or cancer causing. However, the manner in which this mutation causes cancer is unclear. One possible mechanism is through the alteration of cellular metabolism.

Cellular metabolism describes the various chemical changes that take place inside a cell that generate energy, remove waste, and allow a cell to grow. Cellular metabolism is oxygen dependent.

Because tumours grow fast, the blood vessels in the tumour are often poorly formed, meaning the supply of oxygen is low. Tumour cells have therefore developed ways to carry out cellular metabolism without oxygen.

The study describes an alternative metabolic pathway in cancerous cells that is driven by the IDH1 mutation. This pathway allows tumour cells to undergo cellular metabolism in hypoxic, or poorly-oxygenated conditions, facilitating survival and growth.

Furthermore, previous research has demonstrated that tumour cells in hypoxic conditions are often resistant to radiation therapy. Thus, this study improves our understanding of brain tumours and provides a new pathway that can be targeted with therapeutics to treat gliomas.