A gut feeling about new therapies for glioma research

Dr Marlene Hao co-lab head of the Stamp-Hao Lab at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience and Centre for Stem Cell Systems, is investigating the link between the unique properties of glial cells from the gut and their protection against aggressive cancer development, as seen in glial cells of the brain.

Gliomas are an incredibly aggressive form of brain cancer. Approximately 1700 cases of brain cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year. Gliomas make up the majority (80%) of malignant primary brain tumours, meaning they are rapid growing, can spread away from the initial site, and are often life-threatening.

Although there have been improvements in diagnostic and therapeutic options, survival rates remain low for brain cancers, with only 1 in 5 patients surviving beyond 5 years.

Brain glia v gut glia

Gliomas can come from mutations that affect glial cells or neural stem cells. Glial cells are found throughout the nervous system, including in the brain and central nervous system as well in the enteric nervous system, a network of nerve cells and glial cells located within the wall of the gut. These gut glial cells, called enteric glia, share many similarities with brain glia, and can even act as stem cell in the gut. Remarkably, gliomas in the gut are very rare, and more than 95% of tumours in the bowel are benign.

This key difference raises a fascinating question for stem cell researcher Dr Marlene Hao and co-lab head Dr Lincon Stamp: what is unique about enteric glial cells that protect them from developing aggressive cancers?

Understanding the gut to treat the brain

Marlene and Lincon will be one of the first research teams to investigate the genetic differences between these two types of glial cells, with the hope of finding a gene, or gene-family, that has a strong relationship with the occurrence of metastasis of these cells.

They are also investigating the influence of environmental factors by introducing glial cells isolated from the brain into the gut.

They will be working with a strong team of researchers, including Dr Theo Mantamadiotis, Dr Jarny Choi and Professor Alice P├ębay from the University of Melbourne, Professor Kate Drummond, Director of Neurosurgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Dr Meenakshi Rao from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.

“We’re very excited to use knowledge gained from studying the gut to build new targets for treating brain cancer” said Dr Marlene Hao.

This study will be supported by Cure Cancer and the Can Too Foundation.

Article by Helen Braybrook

About Cure Cancer

Cure Cancer is dedicated entirely to funding early career cancer researchers. We identify, assess and fund the research that we believe has the best possible chance of finding a cure. Most importantly, we fund research for all cancers.

One Australian dies every 12 minutes from Cancer. We can change this, but only through research.

Our vision is to make this the last generation to die from cancer. We’ve come a long way, raising $69.1m and funding over 515 research grants to date. We won’t stop until we eliminate cancer for good.

Our vision is to make this the last generation to die from cancer.

To learn more: www.curecancer.com.au

About the Can Too Foundation

The Can Too Foundation is an independent health promotion charity committed to funding cancer research and prevention. The Foundation has raised almost $23M, to fund 180 Australian cancer research projects since 2005 and trained over 16,000 participants to be fitter and healthier

The health promotion charity is fighting cancer on two fronts - reducing cancer by getting people moving through goal-specific fitness programs and improving patient outcomes through funding lifesaving Australian cancer research projects.

We offer professionally coached training programs using qualified and experienced Coaches plus caring Mentors and Team Captains. Can Too trains all levels, from beginners to more experienced athletes, in structured training programs tailored to specific physical challenges such as running races, ocean swims or trek challenges such as to the Camino de Santiago Trail.

To learn more: www.cantoo.org.au

More Information

Dr Marlene Hao

hao.m@unimelb.edu.au