New methodology could lead to less aggressive treatment of brain tumours
Brain metastases, or a secondary brain tumour, refers to a cancer that began in another part of the body, particularly in the lung, breast or skin, and has moved to the brain. Unfortunately, secondary brain tumours are always malignant. Currently, brain metastases represent 1-2 % of all newly diagnosed tumours and 2 % of all cancer-related deaths. Inflammatory reactions often render the body's own immune response powerless to fight these metastases. New research conducted at MedUni in Vienna has for the first time characterised the brain's immune response to infiltrating metastases very precisely. This breakthrough could pave the way to the development of new, less aggressive treatment options.
The immune response is typically carried out by the phagocytes - white blood cells that protect our bodies by ingesting harmful foreign particles; however, they can be overcome. 'The active phagocytes are quite literally overwhelmed by the tumour and even the white blood cells are too weak to fight off these metastases on their own; they have to be stimulated before they can have any effect,' explains oncologist Matthias Preusser from the University Department of Internal Medicine I and the Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) - a joint institution operated by the MedUni Vienna and the Vienna General Hospital.
The team obtained brain tissue from autopsies carried out on people who had metastatic disease secondary to breast, lung or skin cancer. They were chosen because these are also the most common types of primary tumour.
What the scientists at the Clinical Institute of Neurology, the Centre for Brain Research, the CCC and the University Department of Internal Medicine I discovered was that metastases in the brain encounter a wall of phagocytes, but that they were too weak to successfully bring to a halt the tumour's development without reinforcements. To do this, white blood cells (lymphocytes) need to be mobilised in greater numbers as the second instance of the immune defence system.
As a result of this discovery, the researchers believe that these findings could lead to new therapeutic strategies being developed that will aim to increase the activation of white blood cells or other parts of the immune system. This could potentially be done through medication such as antibody treatments or vaccines.
Three hundred to 400 patients with brain metastases are treated each year at the MedUni Vienna. The standard treatment in most cases is radiotherapy to the head or generalised irradiation of the brain, which are associated with certain risks and possible side effects. Only in very few cases are drug-based treatment methods available for certain types of cancer. Preusser is keen to emphasise the potential of the findings, 'Our findings could represent an important step towards the development of less aggressive forms of treatment,' he says.
Anna Sophie Berghoff from the CCC (CNS Tumours Unit) presented the research team's findings at the Congress of the European Association of Neurooncology (EANO) in Marseilles in September.
Data Source Provider: MedUni Vienna
Document Reference: Based on information from MedUni Vienna
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research