5 On Your Side

Study of brain tumor genetics might lead to new treatments

Posted July 14, 2009 2:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2009 7:29 p.m. EDT

Glioblastoma brain tumors are aggressive and rapidly fatal. The average survival time for patients is just one year from diagnosis.

But new research on the genetics of the disease may lead to more effective treatments and longer lives.

P.J. Lukac, a 24-year-old med student, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma.

"In terms of the diagnosis, I think that's the closest I've ever seen a doctor come to tears,” he said.

Lukac had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Now he's working as a research assistant in genetic studies of the tumor that he's fighting. It's a complex disease that involves multiple gene mutations.

In two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found two gene mutations that work together to promote tumor growth and drug resistance. One is a tumor suppressing gene "lost" in about 75 percent of glioblastomas, which causes a tumor-promoting gene to lead to more aggressive tumors.

"This gene is not only important to the biology of the tumors, but immediately impacts the survival and the outcome of the patient,” said Dr. Markus Bredel, with the Feinberg School of Medicine.

As a patient and researcher, Lukac said he is confident that these discoveries will lead to more targeted, effective treatments.

“I think in my lifetime we will see glioblastoma become a chronic and manageable disease,” he said.

The aim of the research is to one day develop a new set of drugs targeting the affected genes.