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Genetic Clues May Lead To Treatment For Deadly Brain Tumor

Glioblastoma is the deadliest form of brain cancer. There is no cure, at least not yet. But researchers have found that a majority of people with glioblastoma have something else in common: a network of genes that interact with each other and fail to suppress the tumor itself. VOA reports on how this discovery might eventually lead to better treatment and hopefully a longer life.

Senator Ted Kennedy fits the profile of a patient with a malignant glioma, a brain tumor.

He is over 70 years of age and is a white male.

Medical student P. J. Lukac is not a typical patient. Though he is a white male, he is only 24 and has glioblastoma, an even more aggressive form of the tumor that Senator Kennedy has had.

Both men have had surgery to remove the tumor, plus radiation and chemotherapy. While the outcome for both men is unknown, the National Cancer Institute says brain tumors rank among the highest causes of cancer death.

Lukac works in the laboratory of Dr. Markus Bredel at Northwestern University's Brain Tumor Institute. He seems realistic about his condition. "When I started in the lab it was a very surreal experience because they talk about uniform fatality, they talk about inevitable recurrences of the cancer, and that kind of just hits you," Lukac said. "But I think it's really heartening to be here and to see what's going on."

Lukac works with Dr. Bredel whose research focuses on the genetic makeup of brain tumors. The researchers have reviewed data from 500 patients. They have identified mutated genes within the glioblastomas that resist treatment and continue growing.

Dr. Bredel says the search for the mutations is a complicated task because there are hundreds of thousands of genes in the glioblastoma genome alone. [The genome includes all of our DNA.]

"The difficult question is which of those many, many genes are actually important in the disease process and which are just simply bystanders to the process," Dr. Bredel said.

The researchers at Northwestern University identified seven genes that may be linked to survival. "We were able to predict the survival of glioblastoma patients in a couple of populations across the United States," Dr. Bredel states.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a companion article, researchers said the discoveries will help in developing future treatment.

Meanwhile, P. J. Lukac says he is optimistic that he will live long enough to see that happen.
"I think in my lifetime we will see glioblastoma become a chronic and manageable disease," he said.