Capital & Coast District Health Board and the GMRI team up on glioblastoma research

CCDHB neurosurgeon and GMRI Honorary Research Associate, Dr Agadha Wickremesekera

Researchers from the GMRI and neurosurgeons from Capital & Coast DHB have joined forces to tackle glioblastoma (GB), the most aggressive primary cancer of the brain.

Dr Tan, Executive Director of the GMRI, said while the GMRI is looking into a range of cancers, glioblastoma is a particular priority because of the very limited treatment options currently available.

CCDHB neurosurgeon and GMRI Honorary Research Associate Dr Agadha Wickremesekera said having operated on many patients with this disease, he is hopeful that the collaboration between the CCDHB and GMRI will help find better ways to treat patients and improve their life expectancy and quality of life.

“Currently GB patients are treated surgically to remove the tumour, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Despite this, virtually all GB recurs and sometimes patients are operated on up to five times. Without any treatment, patients will likely die within a month following diagnosis, and survival rates beyond two years following treatment are as low as two percent,” said Dr Wickremesekera.

As part of the memorandum of understanding between the CCDHB and the GMRI, the neurosurgery department provides the GMRI tumour samples removed from patients, who give written consent.

The GMRI and the neurosurgery team have been studying these tumours and have now identified and characterised cancer stem cells within GB. These primitive cells express embryonic stem cell markers such as OCT4 (see image below). The team has also demonstrated that these cancer stem cells express the renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which is normally known to be involved in blood pressure regulation.

Dr Tan said the discovery of the RAS is particularly important and opens up the exciting prospect of a novel treatment for this aggressive cancer by targeting the cancer stem cells using RAS modulators, in the same way GMRI pioneered the treatment of infantile haemangioma (strawberry birthmark).

More recently the team has successfully grown cancer stem cells from GB tissues, which will allow further understanding of the role of the RAS in regulating cancer stem cells in GB.

Dr Tan said the GMRI team members are extremely grateful for the generosity of patients with GB who have kindly donated their tissues, and the surgeons, nurses and other staff at CCDHB for their support that enables this exciting research to progress.

Image of a glioblastoma showing expression of cancer stem cell marker OCT4 (red)