VT Leads Glioblastoma Study

Jan 31, 2018

The National Institutes of Health is asking scientists at Virginia Tech to take a new look at a highly invasive form of brain cancer. They’ll study a relatively unexplored aspect of cancer progression in hopes of improving current standards of care, and ultimately, finding a cure.

Glioblastoma is the deadliest form of brain cancer. The only treatment is to remove the tumor. But in virtually every case, it grows back.   The $2.5 million NIH grant brings together scientists from a variety of disciplines and the universities, including University of Virginia and Michigan.  They’ll be the first to take an extensive and in-depth look at the unique way these cancer cells invade healthy cells in the brain.  

Jenny Munson, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is leading the study. “The problem with the brain is, we can’t remove the surrounding tissue (because it’s highly functional and key to quality of life) so, targeting these invasive cells is very difficult in the brain.”

Munson says when a tumor grows in a confined space like the brain, pressure builds up in 'interstitial fluids,' pushing cancer cells into nearby healthy brain tissue.  "And when that happens, it's incredibly hard for a surgeon to go in and find those cells and remove them. It's difficult to target those cells with chemotherapy. And that can lead to disease progression as well as, the disease, to recur."    

Munson’s team will study how interstitial fluids, which course through all body tissue, sometimes, carrying tumor cells into healthy tissue, function inside the confines of human skull. It’s thought that hard skull bones put extra pressure on that fluid sending it deeper into brain tissue, making it more difficult to remove and more likely to return.