Often the biggest leaps forward in human medicine come as the result personal tragedies. An Israeli researcher at the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine, whose mother passed away of brain cancer, has found a genetic protein that is directly implicated in the development of the most widespread brain cancer, glioblastoma.
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For Dr. Regina Golan-Gerstl, a postdoctoral fellow at the school, the fight against brain cancer hits close to home. Initially working in the pulmonology department with Senior Hadassah professor Raphael Breuer, researching the communication between cells, Golan-Gerstl switched to studying brain cancer when her mother became ill, eventually passing away from the disease. Nonetheless, Golan-Gerstl continued her research and may now have discovered a promising clue in the fight against brain cancer.
Glioblastoma is an acute form of the cancer which kills patients within five years of diagnosis in approximately 90 percent of cases, according to the American Brain Association.
Turning off the right gene
“There is a mechanism called ‘splicing,’ where elements of RNA are cut and recombined like sections of movie film,” explains Golan-Gerstl. “When a person is sick, the splicing mechanism doesn’t work in the same way. An alternative splicing occurs, thanks to a genetic protein which becomes an activist in the development of cancer.”
The researchers found that the protein is over-expressed in brain tumors, which according to Golan-Gerstl, may be one likely cause for glioblastoma. She believes that “turning off” this protein may be an important step in creating future treatments.
During the research, Golan-Gerstl and her team discovered that when the action of this gene if turned off, tumors in mice decreasde in size. The team’s first success was with testing it on brain cancer.
Finding the same trigger in other forms of cancer
Currently, further investigation is taking place with other metastatic cancers, such as breast cancer. “We are working on shutting it down at a molecular level,” adds Golan-Gerstl, who is working with her team at Hadassah’s Neuro-Oncology Department.
The research has already received recognition from some of the leading organizations supporting the fight against brain cancer. “This discovery is comforting for those who are and who have been affected by this horrible disease. For one, it shows that there are dedicated scientists and researchers who are working around the clock to put an end to it. And two, it gives them hope that there actually will one day be a cure for brain cancer,” said Michael Klipper, chair of Voices Against Brain Cancer, an organization dedicated to brain cancer research and advocacy.
Photo: Human Brain Anatomy by Bigstock