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Breakthrough Brain Cancer Research Will Make Way for Improved Treatments

Jul 01, 2016 04:08 AM EDT

A pioneering breakthrough in brain cancer research could lead to improved treatments, scientists said.

Experts have long held the belief that sugars are the reason behind the growth of tumor cells. But now, scientists at Newcastle University, UK have discovered that cell growth within the malignant brain tumor glioma is actually fueled by fats.

This discovery may lead to an entirely new approach to treating brain tumors, and this could eventually lead to making cancer-fighting drugs that could extend the life of patients.

"Patients with malignant glioma currently receive a poor prognosis, and new interventions are desperately needed to increase the survival and quality of life for patients with the condition," Dr. Elizabeth Stoll from Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience and lead author of the study said in a press release.

"Most cells within the adult brain require sugars to produce energy and sustain function. Interestingly, we have discovered that malignant glioma cells have a completely different metabolic strategy as they actually prefer to break down fats to make energy," Stoll added.

Glioma is the most common form of primary malignant brain tumor in adults and is also among the hardest cancers to treat, where 60 percent of sufferers die within a year.

In the study, which was published in the journal Neuro-Oncology, the researchers used tumor tissue donated by patients undergoing surgery. Researchers also used mouse models of the disease.

Scientists found that growth of glioma cells slowed down when treated with a drug called etomoxir, which prevents the cell from using fat. Survival time was also increased by 17 percent.

According to Stoll, she was surprised that the glioma cells did not switch to using sugars when they were unable to use fats.

"One way they do switch is if they are exposed to blood serum. Then they switch quite easily," she said in an interview with The Independent.

She added that the discovery could help medical experts pursue new therapeutic avenues to target fatty-acid metabolism to slow the progression of brain tumors.

The research team hopes to do more studies in the future to develop the drug with clinical partners for the benefit of glioma patients.  

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