Dangerous forms of brain cancer such as glioblastoma are almost impossible to treat. However, new research by Dr. Roel Verhaak could change that.
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form for brain cancer. Symptoms for the cancer can vary widely, including stroke-like symptoms, headaches, personality changes, and, as the cancer worsens, loss of consciousness. Glioblastoma almost always recurs and few patients survive beyond fifteen months after diagnosis. Less than ten percent of patients survive five years or more. To learn more about glioblastoma, click here.
Verhaak is seeking to understand the mechanisms that drive disease progression and to understand the mutations present in cancer cells associated with glioblastoma. The fact is that it is quite rare for any two cancer cells to be identical to one another. Even in a single tumor the variation in cancer cells can be significant. Often, anywhere from dozens to hundreds or even thousands of different genetic mutations may be present. However, only a small number of them may be significant for disease progression and continued tumor growth.
The doctor’s fascination with computer science and cancer helped him formulate a new approach for studying the disease, particularly the individual cancer cells. Verhaak considers his approach to the research as ‘computational biology.’
His recent paper in the journal Cancer Cell has helped illustrate the depth of detail involved in his research. The publication discusses and analyzes both the glioblastoma cells themselves as well as the specific microenvironment in which they survive, such as the tissues and cells in the brain the surround the tumor.
The environment of the cancer cell is crucial because it can determine the manner in which the cells respond to different treatments. Only by understanding these environments can the effectiveness of treatments be improved.
The paper also discusses how the microenvironment and the cancer cells can vary from person to person. These variables are rarely taken into account with current treatments for glioblastoma. The research makes it clear that a one size fits all approach is outdated and ineffective. However, this research will be the foundational basis for more precise and targeted treatment.