Research shows deadly brain cancer can mimic healthy neurons

Certain cancers are more difficult to treat because they contain cells that are highly skilled at evading drugs or our immune systems by disguising themselves as healthy cells.

Glioblastoma, for example, an incurable brain cancer, is characterized by cells that can mimic human neurons, even growing axons and making active connections with healthy brain neurons.

This cancer is usually deadly—average survival time is just over one year from diagnosis—because it almost always recurs after initial treatment and recurrent tumors are always resistant to therapy.

But now, a new study by researchers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and collaborating organizations provides insight into this neuron mimicry and potential therapies to prevent treatment resistance.

Their work appears Jan. 11 in the journal Cancer Cell.

Our findings were made possible by a unique approach to studying glioblastoma," explained Antonio Iavarone, M.D.

Iavarone noted that they used a platform designed to study glioblastoma cells' full set of proteins, also known as the proteome, and certain modifications on those proteins indicating enzyme activity in cells.

These platforms can provide a landscape of alterations in individual tumors that you cannot get from genetics alone," he added.