UT Southwestern researchers have discovered a new treatment strategy that could possibly extend and save the lives of patients diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
According to the study from UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, when medication—traditionally used separately to treat lung cancer and arthritis—is combined, the concoction can destroy the deadly tumor.
The research, which has been conducted on mice, showed the medicinal combination works by disabling two key proteins responsible for helping cancer cells survive. This discovery provides a possible solution that UT Southwestern is working to fast-track for clinical use.
The medications used to treat arthritis and to disable these proteins have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Armyn Habib, a member of UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, believes this could speed efforts to organize a clinical trial to test the treatment on lung cancer and glioblastoma patients.
“This could be a groundbreaking treatment,” Habib said. “If it works in patients, then it will be an important advance.”
Traditional treatments work by targeting the tumor’s cell membrane, where the protein—known as an epidermal growth factor receptor—resides. However, Habib’s team found that when medication is used to disable this receptor, the brain produces a second protein that takes over the receptor’s function to keep the cancer cell alive. The glioma tumor is then destroyed by blocking both the receptor and the “tumor necrosis factor,” according to the study.
Due to the initial success of his protein-disabling strategy, Habib is hopeful—despite cancers’ tendency to adapt to treatments and find other ways to advance. “If we can provide a remission or slowing of the disease and extend survival, that’s a big advance in fighting this devastating disease,” Habib said.