6 December 2006

A Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) neuroscientist at The University of Queensland has co-discovered a much-needed new approach to treating brain tumours.

In research published in Nature, QBI’s Professor Brent Reynolds together with colleagues in Italy and USA have identified a protein that dramatically inhibits brain cancer stem cells in laboratory animals.

Professor Reynolds said brain cancer killed more than 1200 Australians annually and any treatment that inhibited the growth of brain tumours would likely lead to a better patient prognosis.

“We have discovered that the naturally occurring molecule, bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP4), appears to target the cells responsible for brain tumour initiation and long-term progression,” Professor Reynolds said.

“The morbidity rate for patients with certain types of brain tumours is often tragically high, with a life expectancy of less than a year.”

Currently doctors treat brain tumours with a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or steroid therapy.

Significantly, when the international team studied mice implanted with cells from a human brain tumour, the BMP4 protein was shown to inhibit tumour growth and extend their life.

Alternatively, all animals that received a placebo in place of BMP4 died within three months.

The US scientist who first isolated a tumour stem cell from the human brain, Professor Dennis Steindler, Executive Director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida, said the approach of the Reynolds team and their collaborators was both novel and important.

“This will be one of the first studies to apply insights from the molecular biology of cancer stem cells to a potentially new therapeutic approach for treating primary human brain cancers,” Professor Steindler said.

Given the strength of these results, Professor Reynolds said he and his colleagues were working to develop the use of BMP4 for future clinical trials.

Professor Reynolds heads QBI’s Stem Cell Laboratory, where he is part of efforts to understand the fundamental mechanisms of adult brain plasticity.

Media: To interview Professor Reynolds, please contact QBI Communications (07) 3346 7543 (photo available): Email: r.hohen@uq.edu.au

• Dennis A. Steindler, Ph.D – Executive Director, The Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute Joseph J. Bagnor/Shands Professor of Medical Research Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, University of Florida: Email steindler@mbi.ufl.edu