Glioblastoma Multiforme discovery may help design new treatments

Glioblastoma Multiforme
© iStock/Shidlovski

A seven-year-long research project performed by a team at the University of Surrey may be crucial in pioneering novel treatments for Glioblastoma Multiforme (GMB), a common and deadly form of brain cancer in adults.

The University of Surrey team has discovered that the HTL-001 peptide – a short chain of amino acids – can be effectively employed to inhibit the function of a family of genes that are instrumental in the growth of Glioblastoma Multiforme called Hox genes. The breakthrough may help pioneer new treatment options for combatting the devastating disease.

The study was conducted in collaboration with HOX Therapeutics, a start-up company at the University of Surrey, and also included researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Texas.

Glioblastoma Multiforme treatment limitations

Glioblastoma Multiforme is a rapidly growing type of brain and spinal cord tumour that is the most prominent form of primary malignant brain tumour among adults. It is extremely rare for GBM to develop outside the brain, spine, or central nervous system.

Research suggests that Glioblastoma Multiforme is becoming more prevalent in many areas of the world, the incidence of the condition ranging from 0.59 to five per 100,000 people. GBM is more common in men than women, and the median age of diagnosis is 64 years. Moreover, the condition has a poor survival rate, with only a 40% chance of survival in the first year following a diagnosis, which declines to 17% in the second year.

Hox genes

Hox genes are usually essential for ensuring the healthy growth of brain tissue and are typically suppressed following birth due to vigorous activity in the growing embryo. However, if Hox genes are switched back on again, their activity can drive cancer development, and Hox gene dysregulation is a well-documented factor in Glioblastoma Multiforme.

In their study, the researchers utilised cell and animal models to assess the performance of the HTL-001 peptide. The investigation demonstrated that the peptide effectively located and stopped the development of GBM, highlighting its promising potential as a future treatment option for the condition. The HTL-001 peptide used in the study has been analysed for safety concerns and has shown suitability for human trials, which are now being considered for Glioblastoma Multiforme and other cancers.

Hardev Pandha, the project lead and Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Surrey, commented: “People who suffer from Glioblastoma Multiforme have a 5% survival rate over a five-year period – a figure that has not improved in decades. While we are still early in the process, our seven-year project offers a glimmer of hope for finding a solution to Hox gene dysregulation, which is associated with the growth of GBM and other cancers, and which has proven to be elusive as a target for so many years.”

Professor Susan Short, the co-author of the study from the University of Leeds, said: “We desperately need new treatment avenues for these aggressive brain tumours. Targeting developmental genes like the HOX genes that are abnormally switched on in the tumour cells could be a novel and effective way to stop glioblastomas growing and becoming life-threatening.”

James Culverwell, CEO of HOX Therapeutics, concluded: “HOX Therapeutics is excited to be associated with this project, and we hope that with our continuing support, this research will eventually lead to novel and effective treatments for both brain and other cancers where HOX gene over-expression is a clear therapeutic target.”

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