One reason glioblastoma – an aggressive brain tumor that affects more than 13,000 new people in the US annually – is so deadly is because no tests are available to guide treatment or predict the outcome.

However, researchers at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) have developed a new laboratory test with which “the deadliest cells in glioblastoma (GBM) can be precisely located, recorded and analyzed”.

Her research, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, paves the way for the discovery of new drugs to prevent or slow the spread of cancer, according to a university press release. The test can also tell exactly which people with the cancer are in the least or most aggressive form.

A deadly cancer

Glioblastoma is the most common type of malignant brain tumor in the United States. It can appear at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in older adults. The average survival time is 12 to 18 months, according to the National Brain Tumor Society. Beau Biden, son of President-elect Joe Biden, and Senator John McCain both died from this cancer.

The tumor is formed by mass-producing astrocytes, which are cells in the central nervous system. They first form in the spinal cord or the brain and eventually spread throughout the body.

According to the study, practitioners have previously had to rely on existing methods for single cell analysis, which are too expensive, time consuming and “impractical to provide information to patient care given the short survival time of patients with glioblastoma.” The methods include identifying evidence of cancer in the blood and calculating the results using an evaluation method.

New test offers hope

Known as the “Microfluidic Cell Invasion Quantitation Assay” (MAqCI), the test can evaluate and compare how deadly cancer cells are based on their mobility, reproduction, and ability to compress and maneuver through narrow channels.

These are the three main factors in metastasis – the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. Cancer cells break away from the original tumor and spread, forming more tumors throughout the body.

Once the cells are graded, researchers can predict the aggressiveness of an individual’s cancer and provide a prognosis. The JHU team carried out the test on 28 patients with an accuracy of 86%. The test is still relatively new and must be carried out on a larger sample.

According to lead author Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, PhD, the MAqCL is used to screen potential treatments.

“As we have the unique ability to identify these deadly cells, we would like to use this platform to study potential therapeutics to effectively block the invasion and / or proliferation of these cells and ultimately extend patient survival by providing precision medicine put into practice. Said Dr. Konstantopoulos, professor at the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at JHU.

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