Brain tumour

Tumour subtypes may identify new treatments for incurable brain cancer

  • Research

Glioblastoma is the most common and most aggressive form of adult primary brain cancer. Patients currently have a poor prognosis due to limited treatment options available.

Research led by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has discovered three new subtypes of glioblastoma brain tumour which, with further investigation, could offer new hope in the form of much-needed effective therapies and improved outcomes for patients.

Categorising different tumour types

The research, published in Annals of Oncology, focuses on the different types of non-cancer cells found within glioblastoma tumours. These so-called tumour microenvironment cells can include immune cells and blood vessel cells. By analysing these cells, researchers were able to place tumours into three categories, each with its own unique characteristics.

New treatment approaches

This discovery is particularly impactful because currently, most patients with glioblastoma are treated in the same way. Further investigation of these newly identified subtypes will mean that different patients could receive treatment specific to the cells in their own tumour, a concept known as 'precision medicine'.

One potential application of precision medicine is the use of immune-targeting therapies (immunotherapies) in patients that have the subtype defined by high levels of immune cells within their tumour microenvironment. Immunotherapies harness the body’s own immune system to find and destroy cancer cells. An analysis of glioblastoma clinical trial data carried out in this study showed promise for this approach.

These findings provide convincing evidence for continued research into brain tumour subtypes to inform new treatment strategies and ultimately bring the benefits of precision medicine to patients.

Collaborators and funding

The study was under the leadership of Principal Investigator Professor Annette Byrne working with first authors Kieron White and Dr Kate Connor all from the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group, Department of Physiology. These RCSI-led findings result from a major collaborative initiative which also involved clinical colleagues from the National Centre of Neurosurgery, Beaumont Hospital Dublin (Ireland), members of the GLIOTRAIN brain tumour research consortium (INSERM and the Paris Brain Institute ICM, VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Cancer Biology, The Jackson Laboratory Erasmus MC), and several clinical collaborators from leading US brain tumour research centres.

The study was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSC) ITN initiative (Grant Agreement 766069, ‘GLIOTRAIN’) and the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under the MSC Doctoral Networks grant agreement No 101073386 (GLIORESOLVE). The authors also acknowledge funding from Brain Tumour Ireland which established the Beaumont Hospital Brain Tumour Biorepository.

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