Aiming to slow growth of brain tumours

30 January 2018

Hello, Karin Forsberg Nilsson. You were awarded funding from the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation for a three-year project on brain tumours in children. What types of tumour are you researching?

Karin Forsberg Nilsson is Professor of Stem Cell
Research at the Department of Immunology,
Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“We’re looking at malignant tumours in children, but our research includes adults too. In adults, glioblastoma is the most common and it’s one of the worst cancers you can get. In children, medulloblastoma – a tumour in the cerebellum – predominates. Patients with glioblastoma have approximately 15 months’ average survival and there are no effective treatment methods. The cancer form medulloblastoma can be divided into subdiagnoses. For some, the prognosis is good; for others, poor.”

What is the purpose of your research?
“It’s to find new ways to treat the tumour. This is experimental basic research, so there’s a long way to go, but the goal is to slow down cancer growth in these tumours.

“We focus on a specific type of molecule, proteoglycans, which are present throughout the body. They’re needed for the cells to function normally. But in cancer, the turnover of proteoglycans is speeded up by an enzyme that cleaves the proteoglycans. This makes the tumours grow better and invade the normal brain faster.”

How can tumours be shrunk?
“When we inhibit the enzyme in model systems, using a chemical, the tumour growth decreases. The problem is that the enzyme inhibitor doesn’t get through the blood-brain barrier to the brain where the tumour is. So we have to find another inhibitor that can do the same job. We do this with collaborative partners in the US, New Zealand and the UK. We’re also going to test whether it’s possible to inhibit the tumour without damaging the healthy tissue.”

Is there much left to research?
“Yes, the enzyme we’ve been working on so far is just one of several interesting molecules. There are various approaches to try. In the brain tumour’s development and growth, there’s a whole system that’s disrupted. Our hope is that if we can restore the balance, we can stop tumours from growing.”

Related content

Karin Forsberg Nilsson’s research presentation

Blocked enzyme can stop growth in brain tumour cells