Brain cancers, as the name suggests, occur inside the skull, and arise because of abnormal cell division. Brain tumours are now responsible for more deaths in the under 40 age group than any other form of human cancer.
One particular subgroup of brain tumours is termed glioblastoma, which is the most lethal and also the most common. Glioblastoma is classified as a rare disease, which means that it affects less than 1 person in 2,000. It is the most aggressive form of brain tumour, which spreads very quickly to other brain regions. Because of this infiltration into surrounding tissues, it is impossible to remove surgically, and many cancer cells are left behind resulting in the reappearance of the tumour. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are the classical treatments, but the disease is most often fatal with a typical life expectancy of only one or two years after diagnosis.Glioblastomas are made up of a type of supporting cells of the brain termed astrocytes. However, these tumours also contain many cells that resemble immature neural stem cells that play a role during normal brain development.
Work at CRM
At CRM Dr Steve Pollard and his group work on neural stem cells, and the detailed mechanisms that support their maintenance. Understanding the genes and molecular pathways that change neural stem cells into cancer cells will help identify new therapies. Once the particular gene “switches” are identified, the team aims to design drugs that can turn off cancer promoting pathways.