Apr 2016

Dr. Arezu Jahani-Asl

Researchers take aim at protein in fight against brain tumours

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Researchers believe they have found a key piece to the puzzle of brain tumour formation.

A study published today in Nature Neuroscience shows that glioblastoma tumours need a protein called OSMR (Oncostatin M Receptor) to form. Glioblastoma is one of the most deadly cancers, resistant to radiation, chemotherapy and difficult to remove with surgery.

“The fact that most patients with these brain tumours live only 16 months is just heartbreaking,” said Dr. Arezu Jahani-Asl, lead author of the study. Dr. Jahani-Asl, an assistant professor at McGill University and a principal investigator at the Jewish General Hospital, did much of the research while she was a postdoctoral fellow co supervised by Dr. Michael Rudnicki at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa and by Dr. Azad Bonni from Harvard Medical School and Washington University School of Medicine.

“Right now there is no effective treatment, and that’s what drives me to study this disease,” said Dr. Jahani-Asl.

The research team studied human brain tumour stem cells taken from glioblastoma patients. While it was previously believed that any cancer cell could reproduce to form a whole tumour, researchers have since learned that in brain cancer only a few kinds of cells have this ability. If a single one of these brain tumour stem cells is left behind after surgery, it can create a whole new tumour.  Working with mice, the research team found that blocking OSMR activity in these cells prevented them from forming brain tumours.

“Being able to stop tumour formation entirely was a dramatic and stunning result,” said Dr. Rudnicki, senior co corresponding author of the study. “It means that this protein is a key piece of the puzzle, and could be a possible target for future treatments.”

Dr. Bonni, senior co-corresponding author, said that while the results are exciting, there is much more work to be done.  “The next step is to find small molecules or antibodies that can shut down the protein OSMR or stop it from interacting with EGFR (the epidermal growth factor receptor that drives tumour formation in glioblastoma).  But any human treatment targeting this protein is years away.”

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