global view constructed of white lines
colorful rendering of a brain
January 1, 2016

Brain Cancer Breakthroughs to Build on in 2016

by Zara Jethani

Crossing the blood-brain barrier can be a good thing.

The blood-barrier normally protects the brain from attack by toxins and infection. This same protective quality prevents drugs reaching areas of the brain that are affected by disease such as brain cancer. Researchers in Canada were able to use microbubbles and ultrasound waves to open up tiny pores allowing chemotherapy drugs to pass into the brain in a targeted way through blood capillaries and reach the tumor. Currently, only about 25% of a drug dose reaches its target so this is a big deal as it allows more of the drug to work on the cancer. This advance will help deliver therapies to patients with other diseases as well such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Non-cancer drug combinations can be used to treat brain cancer in some cases.

Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, Director of Neuro-Oncology at the Pacific Brain Tumor Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, discusses thinking outside the box when conducting research and treating patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

Immunotherapy treatments represent a new class of cancer treatment.

Immunotherapy uses the inherent qualities of the immune system to combat cancer by being more powerful, providing more long-term protection with fewer side effects, and benefiting a broader range of patients and cancers.

The Cancer Research Institute classifies current brain cancer immunotherapies as: cancer vaccines, checkpoint inhibitors, oncolytic virus therapy, adoptive cell therapy, adjuvant immunotherapies, and monoclonal antibodies. The most promising areas appear to be vaccines, checkpoint inhibitors and the use of combination therapies. Watch the video to learn how each kind of immunotherapy functions uniquely to target cancer cells and help destroy them.

There may be a simple solution to treating low- and moderate-grade gliomas.

DNA is tightly packed into our cells in exact loops that stay in a particular configuration. A recently reported study showed that low- and moderate-grade gliomas have a mutation which disrupts the normal DNA structure. It makes extra molecules called methyl tags that strip away the insulation between two DNA loops which should never be in contact with each other. Suddenly the joining of these different neighborhood DNAs activates a growth gene converting the normal cell into a cancerous one. There is an early-generation cancer chemotherapy drug called 5-Azacytidine, that removes methyl groups, and when this was added to the cells, the DNA loops bounced back to their original positions and the cell became normal.


Dr. Bradley E. Bernstein, head researcher in the study, member of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, and a pathology professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that it will be simple to devise a test to detect methyl groups and so begin a clinical trial for early stage glioma patients.

“I am biased, obviously,” Dr. Bernstein said, but added, “I am really optimistic about the potential of this information.”

The original research article can be found in the December 2015 issue of Nature.

About the Author

Zara Jethani, MS, MBA

Zara Jethani

Zara is the marketing director at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Her background is in molecular genetics research and healthcare marketing. In addition, she is a graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the healthcare, education and entertainment industries.

Last updated: May 5th, 2022