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Study identifies aggressive cancer that hijacks the brain to make itself incurable

Updated Sep 28th, 2022 9:04AM EDT
Film MRI - scan for brain tumors
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Brain cancer may be rare, but glioblastoma (also known as glioblastoma multiforme or GBM) accounts for around 15 percent of brain tumors. The aggressive cancer is well known within the medical field due to being one of the most dangerous cancers around. Now, scientists may better understand why GBM is so dangerous. A new study says that this cancer hijacks the brain, letting it render itself almost untreatable.

New study shows how dangerous cancer hijacks the brain to become untreatable

brainImage source: paul/Adobe

The new study, which researchers published in the journal Cell details how the cancer hijacks the brain. As one of the most aggressive forms of cancer we know of, GBM is already dangerous. But, based on these new findings, its ability to hijack the brain makes it even more terrifying.

GBM is so effective because of the cells that it forms. These cells are called astrocytes and they support neurons that quickly spread through the affected brain. The symptoms for glioblastoma are very nonspecific most times, too, with nausea and headaches chief among them. Because of this, it can often be hard to tell until it has already begun to spread.

Despite the symptoms being so common, glioblastoma’s secret weapon is the cancer’s ability to hijack the brain. The cancer literally seeds itself widely through the brain. This makes eradication with surgery and other methods more difficult. The tumors caused by GBM can also contain a variety of cells. As a result, treatment of any kind becomes much more complicated.

However, some new treatment options have popped up in recent years.

Understanding GBM better

brain MRI helps us better understand cancer that hijacks brainImage source: merydolla / Adobe

The exact role and functions that these diverse cells in GBM tumors play have always been a mystery, too. Which has only added to the complicated matter of treating the aggressive cancer. Now, though, a new study on GBM tumors in mice allowed scientists to look into the tumors on a molecular and cellular level. As a result, they discovered how the cancer hijacks the brain and seeds itself throughout it.

A brain tumor researcher at Heidelberg University in Germany and a team of others were able to sequence the genetics of single cells in mice with GBM. As a result, the team observed which genes were turned on and off. Other research has also shown how GBM cells form a network with one another. This helps spread the cancer further. (via Gizmodo)

But it isn’t just the connected cells that are dangerous. This new research showed that even the disconnected GBM cells have a dangerous role. These cells appear to receive signals from neurons that push them to spread to other brain regions. By doing this, the cancer is somehow hijacking the brain to progress its spread.

These findings still need to be validated by additional research. But, others validate them, it could help us unlock more knowledge about glioblastoma. Which may even help us improve the mortality rate of this aggressive brain cancer.

More science coverage: See how a radioactive gel can kill skin cancer painlessly.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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