Mice mimic glioblastoma

30 January 2009

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Category: Research & medical benefits

In a huge step forward in studying tumours, a mouse that mimics glioblastoma, the most common and deadly form of human brain cancer, has been developed. The mouse model closely follows the natural progression and development of human brain tumours. Researchers now hope to better understand the cancer, develop new treatments and test them more effectively.

Until now, studying tumours in mice has largely relied on transplanting cancerous tissue from humans into mice with a weakened immune system, causing the development of a tumour in the mice. The downsides with this method are that the immune system is compromised (unlike in the human patient), and the fact that tumours normally develop from a single cell, not a piece of tissue.

With this new method, a virus is used infect cells in mice whose immune systems are fully functional. The modified virus infiltrates adult mice cells with cancer causing cells, mirroring the randomly occurring mutations responsible for cancerous tumours.

The scientists injected two well-known cancer causing genes into brain cells called astrocytes, which are thought to be the origin of glioblastoma in humans. Within a few months tumours displaying all the characteristics of glioblastoma developed in the mice. Cultured cells taken from these tumours showed structures called tumour spheres and displayed all the characteristics of cancer stem cells.

Although the work published so far relates solely to glioblastomas, the team is currently using this methodology to investigate lung, pancreatic, and pituitary cancers.