Research highlight

Spreading brain cancer

Nature Cell Biology

November 17, 2008

A simple blood test could be used to diagnose brain cancer, suggests a study published online this week in Nature Cell Biology. This easy procedure could be used as an alternative to the invasive methods currently used to diagnose one of the most aggressive cancers known.

Glioblastomas are highly malignant brain tumours with poor prognosis. Tumour cells release small membrane sacs called microvesicles or exosomes that contain substances capable of altering surrounding tissue. These vesicles can fuse with neighbouring cells and transfer their content leading to the progression of the tumour.

Xandra Breakefield and colleagues report that primary glioblastoma cells release microvesicles containing genetic material and proteins that are involved in cancer-promoting functions. These include growth of blood vessels, cell growth and migration, and evasion of the immune system. The team noted that two specific molecules associated with gliomas, EGFRvIII and miRNA-21, were present in the microvesicles and could be detected in the blood of patients with brain tumours.

This suggests that a simple blood test could be used to identify the presence of these molecules and may be useful as a non-invasive cancer diagnostic.

doi: 10.1038/ncb1800

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