Brain tumour organisation modelled by new method

2021-09-16

Researchers at IGP have developed a new method to uncover how individual cancer cells change over time. The method offers a way to understand how the heterogeneity of brain tumours arises and could lead to an increased understanding of therapy resistance and to the development of new drug combinations. The study has been published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology.

Brain tumours are made up of a number of cancer cells with different characteristics, that partly resemble the cell types in a healthy brain. How this heterogeneity arises has previously been hard to study but it is of fundamental importance for the choice of drug development strategy. If the cancer cells are organised hierarchically, it would be tactical to attack the cells at the top of the hierarchy to reduce the tumour. However, if the organisation between cell types is more flexible, other therapy strategies are needed.

“To understand how the different cell types are organised we had to develop a method to follow individual cells and their offspring over time. We also needed an approach to quantitatively evaluate the results. This led to the formation of a transdisciplinary collaboration,” says Sven Nelander who has led the study together with Bengt Westermark.

With the new method the researchers have combined the profiling of individual cells using the barcoding technology with mathematical modelling and computer simulations. By applying the method on cancer cells from three different brain tumour patients the researchers could show that the organisation appears to be hierarchical but with a certain level of flexibility. There were also clear patient-specific elements. They have also shown that the organisation itself is influenced by drug treatment.

“The standard brain tumour therapy, temozolomid, seems to direct the cells towards a certain cell type. Our model predicts that temozolomide in combination with a drug that specifically targets this cell type could be an effective way to attack the tumour,” says PhD student Ida Larsson, one if the study’s main authors.

“We believe that this new method has great potential. Besides guiding the development of future brain tumour therapies, the method can be applied on other cancer types that currently lack effective treatments,” says the other main author, Erika Dalmo.

The study has been performed in collaboration with scientists at Chalmers University of Technology.

Mer information:
Article in Molecular Systems Biology
Sven Nelander’s research
Bengt Westermark’s research