Ask the Expert: New Science and Brain Tumours

 Are there new scientific discoveries leading to the treatment or diagnosis of brain tumours?

It’s a question that impacts everyone affected by brain tumour research: clinicians, scientists and, of course, patients and their loved ones.  

Several molecules have been linked to brain tumour development and have been targeted using drug treatments with moderate success. Interestingly, a new class of molecules, microRNAs (miRNAs), has attracted the attention of scientists as promising avenues for brain tumour diagnosis and treatment.
 
These molecules are found in several species including humans and are key controllers of how gene products are ultimately transformed into proteins. This crucial role places miRNAs at the crossroads of several biochemical processes, such as those that can lead to uncontrolled cell growth, the basis of malignant tumours. With such a weight on their shoulders, it is easy to see how altering miRNA expression could have harmful effects in an individual. While it’s been said that these molecules play a role in some diseases, including cancer, it’s important to remember that the exact functions of each miRNA have not yet been identified.
 
So how does this lead to brain tumour research?
 
Several theories are being explored by scientists, in the quest to better understand the roles miRNAs play in brain tumour diagnosis and treatment. Some researchers are assessing miRNAs’ involvement in tumour development and progression by identifying which of these types of molecule are abnormally produced in brain tumours. Another important area of research involves linking miRNA expression with cancerous cell behaviours or how they respond to certain therapeutic treatments.
In the end, the take-home message is that science is digging deeper to improve understanding of the molecular roots that drive brain tumours. Much remains to be discovered and researched. But despite the fact that miRNA research is in its early stages, it has generated very promising leads that raise hopes of identifying factors that cause brain tumours and their respective treatment options.     

About the Author
Pier Jr. Morin is an assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Moncton and holds an MBA degree from the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario. His laboratory focuses on characterizing selected members of a family of proteins called kinases and on understanding their involvement in the development of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive type of brain tumour.  Dr. Morin is one of nine 2011 Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada Research Grant recipients and his research will help to understand the impact of a specific type of protein expression and function as it relates to glioblastoma multiforme brain tumours. You can read more about Dr. Morin’s project here.

 

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