Scientists say their finding that most glioblastoma tumours are reliant on cholesterol to survive, opens the door to drugs that could be developed to stop them.
American researchers found that up to 90 per cent of glioblastomas – themselves the most common form of brain cancer – have what they called a “hyperactive signalling pathway” for cholesterol.
This means that their cells become programmed to suck up LDL cholesterol, which further feeds their growth.
Dr Deliang Guo, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Centre, and lead author of the study, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, said: “Our research shows that the tumor cells depend on large amounts of cholesterol for growth and survival, and that pharmacologically depriving tumor cells of cholesterol may offer a novel therapeutic strategy to treat glioblastoma.”
Dr. Paul Mischel, professor of pathology at the Jonsson Cancer Centre at the University of California Los Angeles, added: “It potentially offers a strategy for blocking that mechanism and causing specific tumor-cell death without significant toxicity.
“Overall, our findings suggest that the development of drugs to target this pathway may lead to significantly more effective treatments for patients with this lethal form of brain cancer.”
The results came from a laboratory study of cells from human brain tumours, as well as animal experiments.
About 5,000 people are diagnosed with brain cancer every year in Britain, while they cause about 3,600 deaths annually.
Glioblastoma multiforma (GBM) tumours are the most common in adults. They are also the most aggressive and are frequently difficult to treat. Average survival time from diagnosis is 15 months.