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Scientists observe brain cancer 'switches'

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Scientists have found compelling evidence that regulating expression of specific microRNAs can help minimize certain cancer characteristics in the most aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma.

MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that fine-tune gene expression, and hence modulate a variety of cellular processes.

The study in Scientific Reports was a collaboration between teams from All India Institute of Medical Science, CSIR-Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (both in Delhi, India) and University of Salford, UK.

Dr Arijit Mukhopadhyay,one of the joint senior authors of the study from the Biomedical Research Centre of the University of Salford said the finding strengthened the potential for using molecular techniques for slowing or reversing the march of the devastating disease which currently has very limited options for disease management.


Dr Mukhopadhyay said:“Compared to normal cells, cancer cells are characteristically more aggressive in invading neighbouring tissue and evade the process of apoptosis (programmed cell death). We observed significant reduction of proliferation and invasion capacity and increased apoptosis of cancer cells when we used increased expression of microRNAs as a switch.” 

The team took a ‘cluster’of microRNAs on human chromosome 14, which in a previous study they had shown to have a lower expression in glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer.

In the laboratory, they tested expression of the microRNAs in the cluster on subtypes of adult brain cancer,using real-time polymerase chain reactions (PCR) on RNA isolated from tumour biopsies of patients. 

Change behaviour

Dr. Subhashree Nayak, the first author of the study said, "One of our major findings is the identification of a novel genomic region within this cluster that controls a specific sub-set of microRNAs towards a desired cellular behaviour.” Using this ‘region’ and two candidate microRNAs - miR-134 and miR-485- 5p - as switches, they observed that the cancer cells began to behave more like non-cancer cells.

This not only holds potential in better management of glioma, but also enhances our understanding of basic biology, and can be applied to other diseases” – said DrNayak.

Added Dr Mukhopadhyay:“Adult brain cancers, especially glioblastoma is very aggressive with very limited management options. This research opens up newer approaches and candidates for disease management and therapy.”

“This study is one of the first cancer studies per se to suggest novel cis-regulators for a very relevant set of miRNAs. Furthermore, the key miRNAs, miR-134 and miR-485- 5p show tumour suppressive potential and reveal novel therapeutic possibilities for brain tumour.

More research 

if you're interested in this, see also Dr Arijit Mukhopadhyay's work -  'Lack of editing in brain molecules potential driver of cancer'

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Gareth Hollyman, Senior Press & PR Officer (Science)

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