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UCalgary researchers discover a new tactic to stop the growth of a deadly brain cancer

Scientists at the UofC’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) have found a way to stop the growth of glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.

The new discovery provides a new tactic in battling cancer. It works by reprogramming the immune system to fight the tumor instead of fueling it.

Scientists have observed a tumour’s ability to recruit cells from the immune system for some time.

Until now, they didn’t understand how the tumour was able to do that.

“We discovered that glioblastoma cells secrete a specific factor, called interleukin 33,” said Stephen Robbins, PhD, and co-principal investigator on the study.

“It’s this substance that draws immune cells to the tumour and helps to create an environment that changes the function of the immune cells. Instead of fighting the tumour, the immune cells go to work for it, contributing to the tumour’s rapid growth.”

Interleukin 33 (IL-33) is not new to researchers. It’s referred to as alarmin which, just like it sounds, raises an alarm in the body that signals the immune system.

IL-33 also works in the nucleus of the tumour cell, which is vital, because this change triggers the transformation in the immune cells, which changes their function from fighting tumour growth to promoting it.

The finding was published in Nature Communications, a science-based academic journal.

Way to stop resilient tumour

Current treatment for glioblastoma includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, which can be effective but will not necessarily be a cure. This type of tumour is very resilient, but the researchers found that there is a way to stop its growth.  

“New findings like this one advances our fundamental understanding of how we can potentially re-program our immune system precisely to attack and destroy glioblastoma and other cancers,” said Dr. Victor Ling, Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) president and scientific director.

“Our congratulations to this pan-Canadian team, led from the University of Calgary, for demonstrating how translational cancer research built on collaboration, and open and transparent data sharing, can have profound results.”