Research findings could lead to treatment for deadly brain cancer

A team of Ottawa researchers have discovered an important piece of the puzzle that could lead to better treatment for glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.

The discovery could lead to future therapies that would offer some hope to glioblastoma patients, for whom current treatments are limited, at best. Glioblastoma is resistant to both radiation and chemotherapy, and is difficult to remove during surgery. As a result, most people diagnosed with the brain cancer survive just 16 months.

The findings of the research led by Dr. Arezu Jahani-Asl, who performed the work largely while she was in Ottawa as a post-doctoral fellow of Dr. Michael Rudnicki at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience on Monday.

The research was the first to discover that a protein called OSMR (Oncostatin M Receptor) is required for glioblastoma tumours to form.

The team found that blocking the OSMR activity in brain tumour stem cells prevented them from forming tumours in mice.

Rudnicki called it a stunning result: “It means that this protein is a key piece of the puzzle and could be a possible target for future treatments.”

Jahani-Asl, who is now an assistant professor with the department of oncology at McGill University and an investigator at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, said the research represents a new perspective on the cancer and offers the hope that OSMR-targeted therapies could eventually improve the prognosis for glioblastoma patients.

She will continue working on the protein and development of potential antibodies to treat the cancer at her McGill lab.

Glioblastoma, she said, “is really heartbreaking. These patients don’t have a lot of hope right now. That is what drives me to study this.”

Ottawa teacher Denis Raymond, 29, doesn’t fit the mould of glioblastoma patients, and for that he is grateful.

He was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 and is still going strong. Until recently, he took part in the medical trial of an experimental therapy involving electromagnetic field therapy.

Raymond said he is hopeful about the research involving OSMR.

“It is very exciting to have not only these new findings, but the possibility of new treatments. This is a very devastating disease. I am one of the lucky few who have made it to the three-year mark. Only a small percentage of patients do.”

Meanwhile, Raymond, who postponed plans to continue with his education when he was diagnosed, is taking advantage of his health and returning to school to pursue a master’s degree in sociology in the fall.

“When people are in my situation, it is very much day-to-day living. For me, being a three-year survivor is phenomenal. I am finally in a place that I can look at next year.”

Raymond said he is hoping it is just a matter of time before there is effective treatment.

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