Fn14 gene plays a role in how fast brain cancer spreads to healthy tissue

Phoenix, AZ, October 2, 2006--Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) today announced findings that build upon a previously identified gene that plays a significant role in the migration of brain tumor cells. When this gene is highly expressed (or 'turned on') in tumor cells, the cells tend to infiltrate healthy brain tissue faster than cells without this gene-making it a potential drug target to help stop the spread of brain cancer.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) are the most common and most deadly brain tumors found in adults. In fact, most patients diagnosed with GBM survive only a year after diagnosis. These tumors have the ability to spread very quickly to other areas of the brain, which is one of the reasons why GBM is so difficult to treat. While over the past 30 years there has been progress in terms of more accurate surgical removal of brain tumors, there has been no improvement in patient survival rates. If any of the cancer cells escape surgical removal, they repopulate and spread into healthy brain tissue. Researchers at TGen are now trying to understand the genetic mechanisms behind these aggressive and invading cells. Dr. Nhan Tran, a post-doctoral fellow in TGen's Brain Tumor Research Lab, is focused on a gene called the fibroblast growth factor-inducible 14 (Fn14), which is associated with poor prognosis.

Published in the October issue of the journal, Cancer Research, Dr. Tran and his team report that Fn14 is highly active in migrating and invading glioma cells. The expression level of the Fn14 gene increases with the malignancy of brain cancer and correlates with poor patient outcome. When Fn14 is highly active, it promotes faster spreading of the tumor while also causing cells to become more resistant to therapy.

"In other words, the more Fn14 is expressed, the faster the cancer cells spread into healthy brain tissue," said Tran, who is the lead author on the paper. "Now that we have identified one of the mechanisms by which brain cancer migrates, we have a focused opportunity to develop a drug to target Fn14 in order to stop the spread of cancer. Although more research is necessary, Fn14 could be an ideal new drug target."

Currently Dr. Tran is focused on the pre-clinical evaluation of anti-Fn14 agents in a brain tumor model to investigate the suitability and applicability of Fn14 as a target to develop new medicines against invading cancer cells.

"Dr. Tran's work is a concrete example of TGen's intent to take discoveries made at the lab bench and translate those discoveries into earlier diagnoses and smarter treatments," said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen's Scientific Director.

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About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is focused on developing earlier diagnostics and smarter treatments. Translational genomics research is a relatively new field employing innovative advances arising from the Human Genome Project and applying them to the development of diagnostics, prognostics and therapies for cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes and other complex diseases. TGen's research is based on personalized medicine and the institute plans to accomplish its goals through robust and disease-focused research.

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