Study Finds First Genetic Clues To Brain Tumor Treatment

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the London Regional Cancer Centre in London, Ontario, have discovered specific genetic changes that indicate whether chemotherapy would be effective in treating patients with anaplastic oligodendrogliomas, a particular type of brain tumor. The discovery, described in the Oct. 7 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, has the potential for significantly improving treatment of patients with these tumors.

"It now will be possible at diagnosis to examine patients' tumors for these genetic changes and determine right away whether chemotherapy will be helpful," says J. Gregory Cairncross, MD, a neuro-oncologist at the London Regional Cancer Center, the paper's first author. "For those who have this genetic pattern, we know that chemotherapy has an excellent chance of shrinking or even eliminating their tumor. And those patients whose tumors would not respond to chemotherapy can avoid the side effects of those powerful drugs."

David Louis, MD, of the MGH Department of Pathology and Neurosurgery Service, the paper's senior author, adds, "This is the first time that molecular genetic analysis has been applied successfully to the diagnosis of brain tumors and the first time we've been able to define which brain tumors are going to respond to chemotherapy." Molecular genetic analysis -- the use of genetic information to classify tumors, as opposed to traditional methods that rely on a tumor's physical appearance -- has been used for several other sorts of tumors, most recently in identifying types of breast cancer susceptible to treatment with the new drug herceptin.

The collaborative study results from the combined expertise of the two research teams. The MGH team previously had identified a number of genetic variants in the malignant brain tumors called gliomas; the London team had discovered that the subtype of tumor called oligodendrogliomas were particular sensitive to chemother

Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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