TGen Partnership Study Advances Research On Often-Fatal Brain Tumor

By Andrew Bernier
Published: Monday, May 4, 2015 - 5:56pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - 12:43pm
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(Photo courtesy of TGen)
Dr. Sara Byron, Research Assistant Professor in TGen's Center for Translational Innovation, and one of the study's co-lead authors.
(Photo courtesy of TGen)
This circos plot provides a graphical summary of the genomic alterations detected in an individual glioblastoma tumor following complex genome-wide analysis.

While some forms of cancer are easily treated, others are incredibly difficult to treat. Phoenix researchers are studying one of the most deadly forms of brain cancer, and tests are narrowing down possible treatments.

A national study is taking on glioblastoma, a highly invasive and almost always deadly brain tumor.

“It’s a very aggressive tumor. And it’s also been stubborn for breakthroughs for pretty much the last three or four decades," said Dr. Michael Berens of TGen, a contributor to the study.

Berens said the hope is to uncover the molecular source of tumor growth through genetic sequencing and combat its growth with FDA-approved drugs.

“Let’s not just understand the disease but link the genetic changes to ways to intervene with currently available drugs in combinations," he said.

Co-lead author Dr. Sara Byron of TGen said comparing the tumor’s genetic sequence to the patient’s healthy tissue may uncover key differences. 

“Look deeply at the genome of the individual patient in their tumor. And compare that to the person's normal sequence to figure out what's different in the tumor and use that information to identify and make recommendations for therapy," she said.       

In clinical trials at UC San Francisco, biopsies were performed on patients during surgery. Then genome profiling done on each patient led to a prescribed individual selection of drugs to best target inoperable parts of the tumor.

But mutations can occur at different stages of tumor growth. 

“The approach we’re taking is to identify those changes then target multiple changes," Byron said. "So, identify the best combination of drugs that we think may be effective against the specific alterations that were detected in that individual patient sample.”          

The research was funded by a Scottsdale-based foundation that focuses on brain cancer research.