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Curtin research uncovers tumour-killing protein

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A researcher from Curtin University has discovered a protein that kills brain tumour stem cells and prevents them from regenerating, in a breakthrough that could have significant implications for cancer survival rates.

Professor Arun Dharmarajan, from Curtin’s School of Biomedical Sciences and lead researcher on the project, said brain tumour survival rates were incredibly low.

“Glioblastoma multiforme (brain tumours) are one of the most common, most aggressive and lethal forms of cancer,” Professor Dharmarajan said.

“Treatment is usually chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, which leaves patients with a median survival time of 15 months after diagnosis. Without treatment, life expectancy is roughly four months.

“The rate of tumour growth depends on the number of self-renewing stem cells which are responsible for tumour propagation – the more stem cells, the higher the resistance to cancer therapies such as chemotherapy.

“Cancer stem cells drive the formation and proliferation of malignant tumours and are resistant to radiation and chemotherapy so the tumours can regenerate.”

Professor Dharmarajan has identified a protein, called Secreted Frizzled-Related Protein 4 (sFRP4), which can make stem cells more sensitive to chemotherapy and could help to destroy glioma cancer stem cells.

“This study provides a new therapeutic strategy for targeting the cancer stem cell population of brain tumours and other tumours such as breast, ovary, prostate and mesothelioma used either alone or in combination with existing chemotherapeutic agents.

“We may have a really effective treatment to combat cancer which would be incredibly exciting,” Professor Dharmarajan said.

The study was completed in collaboration with the Manipal Institute of Regenerative Medicine, Manipal University in Bangalore, India.


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