white lab coat embroidered with "University of California" hangs in a laboratory space

Top 5 Research Stories of 2018

In 2018, the UCSF Brain Tumor Center published research on topics spanning from glioblastoma drug targets to blood test biopsies – and even space travel. Here are our top five research stories of the year:


glioblastoma histology, courtesy of the Costello Lab

Researchers identify a new therapeutic target for glioblastoma

A common mutation in a gene regulator called the TERT promoter is often found in glioblastoma, among other cancers. TERT promotor mutations cause the unchecked cell division that confers "immortality" to cancer cells. 

Published in Cancer Cell, a group of researchers led by Joseph Costello, PhD found that glioblastoma cells with TERT promoter mutations depend on a specific form of the protein GABP. Eliminating a subunit of the GABP protein slowed growth of cancer cells in a dish, but had no discernible effect on healthy cells. 

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scientist examines a vial of blood

New blood test 'biopsy' for children with brain tumors

A new blood test 'biopsy' analyzes blood and cerebrospinal fluid for certain markers, and could be able to tell more quickly whether a treatment is working. In children with diffuse midline glioma, the H3 K27M mutation is common, and can be used to identify circulating tumor DNA. Published in Clinical Cancer Research, UCSF researchers found that levels of circulating tumor decrease after treatment with radiation - this change indicates that the tumor had receded, which was later confirmed by MRI. 

“These results are encouraging,” said Sabine Mueller, MD, PhD, UCSF pediatric neuro-oncologist and co-senior author. “Liquid biopsies have the potential to tell us if a patient is a candidate for a targeted therapy and if that therapy is working in real time."

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Susanna Rosi, UCSF neuroscientist

Drug prevents radiation-induced cognitive decline in mice

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for brain cancers, but especially in children, can have consequences on cognitive function. 

Led by Susanna Rosi, PhD and Nalin Gupta, MD, PhD, UCSF researchers found that a drug compound that suppresses activation of microglia in the brain prevents the radiation-induced cognitive deficits in a mouse model of glioma – a result with profound clinical significance if it can be replicated in human patients. This work was published last month in eLife.

“Ideally, we’d be able to provide this compound to patients prior to their scheduled treatment and prevent cognitive deficits form forming in the first place,” said Gupta. Gupta and Rosi hope to move this work into clinical trials.

Earlier this year, Rosi and her team found that this same drug compound also prevents memory impairment in mice exposed to simulated space radiation – a concern for deep space exploration.

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Understanding genetic drivers of aggressive meningioma

Published last March in Cell Reports, a team led by UCSF radiation oncologist David Raleigh, MD, PhD, found that increased activity of a gene known as FOXM1 appears to be responsible for the aggressive growth and frequent recurrence of aggressive meningioma.

New molecular insights into the biology of meningioma are critical for developing better treatments, and this finding in particular could be an important step towards correctly diagnosing and distinguishing these more aggressive tumors from slow-growing tumors earlier on.

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illustration of poliovirus

New clinical trial uses modified poliovirus against glioblastoma

The UCSF Brain Tumor Center is one of four sites in the country testing a modified version of a poliovirus that had encouraging results against glioblastoma in a recent phase I clinical trial.

The modified poliovirus is designed to infect and kill tumor cells, in addition to stimulating the immune system against the tumor. In this immunotherapy clinical trial, the modified poliovirus will be directly infused to the tumor site using convection-enhanced delivery.

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