In a world first, Indian and Australian medical scientists are attacking lethal brain tumour stem cells with a naturally occurring protein in a bid to cure an aggressive form of cancer that kills within weeks or months.
Winthrop Professor Arun Dharmarajan of The University of Western Australia's School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology said the collaboration with Dr Sudha Warrier and her team from Bangalore's Manipal Institute of Regenerative Medicine was already producing promising results.
Professor Dharmarajan is the discoverer of the protein sfrp4, a blood vessel growth inhibitor with implications for the treatment of a range of diseases, including cancer, arthritis and diabetic blindness.
The protein stops tumours from growing by stopping blood vessel formation, thereby cutting off a tumour's food and oxygen supply.
Dr Warrier focusses on glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain tumours - which remain incurable despite surgical removal and chemotherapy - and found that sfrp4 can destroy brain tumour stem cells and eradicate the bulk of the tumour. GBM is the most common and most aggressive primary brain tumour and has the worst prognosis of any malignancy of the central nervous system.
"Cancer stem cells are very difficult to identify and find because for every one cancer stem cell there are about a million cancer cells," Professor Dharmarajan said. Dr Warrier's group had found a way to isolate rare brain cancer stem cells and maintain them successfully in cell culture. An in-depth study into the extent to which sfrp4 could destroy cancer stem cells was underway as a student exchange program between UWA and Bangalore.
"The protein is secreted naturally by cells and should cause fewer side effects when used as a treatment," Professor Dharmarajan said.