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OSU researchers mix old, new traditions in fight against brain cancer

New research from Ohio State University, a mix of Western medicine and Eastern herbal remedies, may finally give doctors a needed weapon in their fight against the most aggressive types of brain cancer.

In a study released on July 11, researchers at OSU's Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute determined a compound family called indirubins stop brain tumor cells from spreading to other areas of the brain.

Indirubins, which are found in a common Chinese herbal remedy, not only stop glioblastoma cells from migrating, the substance also retards other cells that help tumors form new blood vessels and grow, according to the study.

"Breakthroughs are in the eye of the beholder," says Dr. E. Antonio Chiocca, one of the study's principal investigators, "but time will tell. The key issue is that most patients with these kinds of tumors die because the cancer cells infiltrate the entire brain. We think indirubins are the answer for stopping that infiltration."

Glioblastomas are the most common and most aggressive form of brain tumors, with about 18,5000 cases diagnosed annually. The initial tumor can be treated through medication, chemotherapy or surgery, but the migration of cancer cells to other parts of the brain lead to a high mortality rate. Almost 13,000 death per year are attributed to the cancer. The median length of survival after diagnosis is roughly 15 months.

"We have pretty good therapies to keep the original tumor at bay, but there's nothing we currently have to stop the migration of those cells," Chiocca explains. "Combined with current therapies, we think indirubins can make a real difference."

The study, which appears in the current issue of "Cancer Research," was funded by the Esther L. Dardinger Endowment for Neuro-oncology and Neurosciences, the National Cancer Institute, the Jeffrey Thomas Hayden Foundation and the American Brain Tumor Association. It began by examining several classes of substances for their effect on tumor growth in mice.

Now, Chiocca says, the challenge is to continue the research until indirubins can be used in humans. For that, they'll need FDA approval. Another hurdle: Since indirubins have already been described chemically by other scientists, it isn't patentable.

"Without the promise of a patent, companies won't be interested in developing it further," he continues. To continue their work, they'll have to find a chemical variant of the substance that can be patented, or petition the National Institute of Health for funding.

Source:  E. Antonio Chiocca, OSU's Dardinger Center for Neurooncology and Neurosciences
Writer: Dave Malaska

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