Drug slows brain cancer, Calgary researchers say
Eva Ferguson, Canwest News ServicePublished: Thursday, December 04, 2008
CALGARY - Adults facing a death sentence from the most aggressive form of brain cancer may now find a brighter future, thanks to a groundbreaking discovery by University of Calgary researchers.
They've identified an enzyme that activates significant cell growth in brain cancer cells that cause aggressive glioblastoma. More importantly, they've found a way to prevent that enzyme from making brain tumours spread by using a new drug now being tested for Alzheimer's patients.
Dr. Peter Forsyth, a professor with the faculty of medicine, along with assistant professors Donna Senger and Stephen Robbins, have been working since 2000 to identify the enzyme that acts as a "cutter" in the brain, enabling brain cancer cells to travel outward, growing and spreading from a primary tumour.
Shortly after the enzyme's discovery in 2007, the scientists were able to connect it with Alzheimer's disease and found that a new drug, now in the final phase of toxicology and safety tests, impeded that enzyme's activity.
The drug, already found to prolong life in mice injected with brain cancer cells, is expected to be ready for use in about three years.
"It's an interesting idea that you can use a drug to block the invasion of cancer cells into normal human tissue, but to have that drug already being used in clinical trials is a dream come true," Forsyth said.
Senger said the hope the drug could bring to terminal cancer patients and their families is very meaningful.
"Any time you can prolong life with a good quality and give patients that extra time with their families - it really means a lot. It's precious."
The researchers aren't yet prepared to estimate how much the drug might prolong human life.
Rob Evans was diagnosed with a brain tumour 15 years ago. Although it wasn't the most aggressive glioblastoma, it required surgery and a regimen of radiation and chemotherapy, which has had lasting effects on the now 46-year-old.
Evans says the best part about an Alzheimer's drug treatment for brain cancer is that it is so much less invasive than radiation and chemotherapy.
"Invasive treatments wear you down. They drain you mentally and physically and make it so difficult to deal with all the other issues," he said.
"A non-invasive treatment, like a drug, a pill that you take, really would help you to stand up and do exactly what it is you need to do to fight the disease. It makes it easier to deal with what's ahead."
Evans, who was diagnosed 15 years ago on Christmas Eve when his wife was pregnant with their first child, was treated by Dr. Forsyth at the time.
"We're so lucky in Calgary, to have all these experts right here in the city. You don't have to go anywhere else to get the best care," Evans said.
The team's research could also have an impact on the treatment of other cancers, including skin cancer which is also spread through the same type of enzyme.
The U of C's work was also supported in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Alberta Health Services - Alberta Cancer Board, and the Alberta Cancer Foundation.