Researchers say the two genes are active in about 60% of all glioblastoma patients and identifying these genes could help identify those with this type of aggressive brain tumor.
Glioblastoma is among the most lethal types of brain cancer because it rapidly spreads throughout the brain and creates inoperable brain tumors. Senator Edward Kennedy died of glioblastoma only 16 months after he was diagnosed with the disease.
"We now know that two genes -- C/EPB and Stat3 -- are the disease's master 'control knobs,'" researcher Antonio Iavarone, MD, associate professor of neurology in the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University Medical Center, says in a news release. "When simultaneously activated, they work together to turn on hundreds of other genes that transform brain cells into highly aggressive, migratory cells."
Researchers say that until now, they had no idea what made glioblastomas so aggressive and deadly.
In the study, published in Nature, researchers found all brain cancer patients whose tumors showed activation of these two genes died within 140 weeks after diagnosis, compared with half of the patients without this genetic variant.
Further experiments showed that blocking these two genes in human glioblastoma cells prevented them from forming tumors when injected into mice.
"The finding means that suppressing both genes simultaneously, using a combination of drugs, may be a powerful therapeutic approach for these patients, for whom no satisfactory treatment exists," researcher Andrea Califano, PhD, director of the Columbia Initiative in Systems Biology, says in the news release.