Barrow Researchers Learning More About Glioblastoma Recurrence

Researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute are learning more about the mechanisms that allow glioblastoma tumor cells to resist treatment and repopulate.

With an estimated 9,000 people diagnosed with glioblastoma each year in the United States, it is – among adults – the most common of the tumors that originate in the brain. With a median survival time of nine to 14 months after diagnosis, it is also the deadliest primary brain tumor.

The current standard of care for people with this malignant brain tumor is to surgically remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. However, almost all patients experience tumor recurrence after treatment and there is currently no standard of care for recurrent glioblastoma.

photo of barrow brain tumor researcher shwetal mehta

Shwetal Mehta, PhD
Associate Professor of Neurobiology

“One of the reasons why glioblastoma remains a major clinical challenge is due to the presence of a small subset of cells within these tumors called glioma stem-like cells (GSCs),” said Shwetal Mehta, PhD, an assistant professor of neurobiology at Barrow. “These cells are especially resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy and often escape surgical resection, leading to tumor recurrence.”

Not only are GSCs able to divide and reproduce, but they also pose a major clinical challenge by giving rise to a variety of different cell types.

“In order to develop targeted therapies against the GSC population, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms that allow these cells to thrive and maintain their stem cell-like features within a tumor,” Dr. Mehta explained.

In a study recently published in Cell Reports, Dr. Mehta’s laboratory focused on a protein called Olig2, which is found in almost all glioblastomas and is critical for the GSCs to grow and divide. The researchers demonstrated that this protein controls an important signaling pathway that the GSCs require to maintain their stem cell-like features.

GSCs appear to lose their stem cell-like properties if the Olig2 protein is blocked, meaning they may not be able to self-renew.

“Our study provides novel insights into how this highly tumorigenic subpopulation of glioblastoma cells responds to the inhibition of critical signaling pathways important for imparting stem-like properties,” Dr. Mehta said. “It also provides avenues for better targeted therapies for glioblastoma patients.”

RELATED: Barrow Study Identifies Therapeutic Opportunities for Glioblastoma

About Barrow Neurological Institute
Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.