New approach targets brain cancer stem cells

6 Dec 2006

A Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) neuroscientist at The University of Queensland has co-discovered a much-needed new approach to treating brain tumours.

In research published in Nature, QBI's Professor Brent Reynolds together with colleagues in Italy and the USA, has identified a protein that dramatically inhibits brain cancer stem cells in laboratory animals.

Professor Reynolds said brain cancer killed more than 1,200 Australians annually and any treatment that inhibited the growth of brain tumours would likely lead to a better patient prognosis.

“We have discovered that the naturally occurring molecule, bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP4), appears to target the cells responsible for brain tumour initiation and long-term progression,” Professor Reynolds said.

“The morbidity rate for patients with certain types of brain tumours is often tragically high, with a life expectancy of less than a year.”

Currently doctors treat brain tumours with a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and steroid therapy.

Significantly, when the international team studied mice implanted with cells from a human brain tumour, the BMP4 protein was shown to inhibit tumour growth and extend their life.

Alternatively, all animals that received a placebo in place of BMP4 died within three months.

The US scientist who first isolated a tumour stem cell from the human brain, Professor Dennis Steindler, Executive Director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida, said the approach of the Reynolds team was both novel and important.

“This will be one of the first studies to apply insights from the molecular biology of cancer stem cells to a potentially new therapeutic approach for treating primary human brain cancers,” Professor Steindler said.

Given the strength of these results, Professor Reynolds said he and his colleagues were working to develop the use of BMP4 for future clinical trials.

Professor Reynolds heads QBI's Stem Cell Laboratory, where he is part of efforts to understand the fundamental mechanisms of adult brain plasticity.


For more information, please contact:
QBI Communications Office
Tel: +61 7 3346 6434

Notes to the Editor
The Queensland Brain Institute was formed in 2003 as part of the Queensland Government’s Smart State Initiative, building on a long history of neuroscience at The University of Queensland. QBI is dedicated to understanding the molecular basis of brain function and applying this knowledge to the development of new therapeutics to treat brain and mental health disorders.