Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Cancer Vampires

Glioblastoma brain tumour cells steal from healthy nerve cell neighbours to fuel their growth

22 February 2020

Cancer Vampires

Glioblastoma is the most dangerous type of brain tumour. Most people survive just one year after diagnosis and frustratingly little progress has been made in improving these grim odds. The disease also affects brain function, causing problems that can have a major impact on patients’ lives. Using fruit flies as a stand-in for human patients, researchers are taking a closer look at the interactions between cancer cells and healthy nerve cells in the brain. The top panels show the brain of a healthy fruit fly maggot, with healthy nerve cells highlighted in grey or green, while the bottom row comes from insects with glioblastoma (red). It turns out that the cancer cells are ‘vampirising’ their neighbours, stealing chemical signals that fuel their growth and destroy healthy nerve cell function. This new discovery helps to explain how these tumours cause problems in the brain and why they’re so difficult to treat.

Written by Kat Arney

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