Researchers at the University of California, Davis have announced that they have found a molecule that targets a highly deadly form of cancer called glioblastoma.
Revealing their findings in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, the researchers say that their work provides hope for effectively treating the most common and aggressive type of primary brain tumour in adults.
Glioblastoma is marked by tumours with irregular shapes and poorly defined borders that rapidly invade neighbouring tissues, making them difficult to remove surgically.
"These brain tumours are currently treated with surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible followed by radiation to kill cancer cells left behind and systemic chemotherapy to prevent spread to nearby tissues. It is unfortunate that this approach does not extend survival significantly. Most patients survive less than one year," said Kit Lam, senior author of the study and UC Davis chief of hematology and oncology.
With a view to discovering novel options for treating the disease, the research team began searching for a molecule that could be injected into a patient's bloodstream and deliver high concentrations of medication or radionuclides directly to brain tumour cells, while sparing normal tissues.
Lam said that the study lead to the identification of a molecule called LXY1 - which binds with high specificity to a particular cell-surface protein called alpha-3 integrin, which is overexpressed on cancer cells.
For testing the molecule's ability to target brain cancer by implanting human glioblastoma cells both beneath the skin and in the brains of mice, the researchers injected the animals with a radiolabeled version of LXY1.
With the help of near-infrared fluorescence imaging, they observed that the molecule did preferentially bind to human glioblastoma cells in both locations.
"This outcome gives us great hope that we will be able to deliver targeted therapies to treat glioblastoma," said Lam.
Lam is planning to continue this work by repeating the experiments with powerful cancer treatments linked to the LXY1 molecule.
The researcher has revealed that the group will begin with iodine-131, a form of radionuclide currently used to treat some cancers, as well as a nanoparticle, or "smart bomb," that would carry cancer-fighting drugs to diseased cells.