Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most devastating and common form of adult brain cancer worldwide, afflicting 2-3 of every 100,000 individuals. While the pace of basic research into the disease has been fast with constant new discoveries at the bench, translation of this knowledge to the bedside has proved to be an especially great challenge. There are many difficulties when researchers try to bring a new discovery into the clinic.
A landmark GBM clinical trial by the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EOTRC) and the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) published in 2005 still forms the basis for how patients are treated today. The Stupp protocol (named after the first author of the 2005 study, Dr. Roger Stupp) involved a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy with a drug called Temozolomide (TMZ). This new treatment resulted in an improvement of patient survival from 12.1 months (radiotherapy alone) to 14.6 months (radiotherapy + TMZ). However, authors of this study noted that elderly patients tended to benefit less from the newer, more aggressive protocol.
Recently, an international clinical trial led by CCTG researchers based at Queen’s University in Ontario has tailored the Stupp protocol to elderly patients. Researchers found that patients 65 years or older benefited significantly from a regimen combining TMZ with a lower dose of radiotherapy, with an improvement of survival from 7.6 months to 9.3 months. This finding means that the same treatments being applied to lead singer of The Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie will soon be made available to many more survivors of this devastating disease. An extra 2 months can certainly mean a great deal to a cancer patient and their family.
This result serves as a great illustration of the combined potential of basic and translational research. While the aim of basic research is to understand how biological processes work (for example, how and why a tumour forms), translational researchers try to apply this knowledge to our benefit (i.e. finding new cancer therapies). Temozolomide is a successor of other drugs that were first tested in mouse models of leukemia by basic research scientists in the 1960s, and later confirmed to be able to access tumours of the brain. Oftentimes it takes years of work from many dedicated researchers before enough evidence is gathered to proceed with human clinical testing. However, findings from translational research has the greatest direct impact on patients’ lives.
This article was written by Kevin Lan, who is currently finishing his PhD at the University of Toronto. He is studying how brain cancers become resistant to current cancer therapies. To learn more about Kevin and his research you can visit our members page.
Stupp, R., W. P. Mason, M. J. van den Bent, M. Weller, B. Fisher, M. J. Taphoorn, K. Belanger, A. A. Brandes, C. Marosi, U. Bogdahn, et al. (2005). “Radiotherapy plus concomitant and adjuvant temozolomide for glioblastoma.” N Engl J Med 352(10): 987-996.
Venditti, J. M., I. Kline and A. Goldin (1964). “EVALUATION OF ANTILEUKEMIC AGENTS EMPLOYING ADVANCED LEUKEMIA L1210 IN MICE. 8.” Cancer Res 24: 827-879.