Model brains: Using fruit flies to understand how brain tumours spread
Professor Christos Delidakis and his team are using fruit flies to study how brain tumours spread to other vital organs. They hope that studying how specific genetic mutations allow brain tumours to spread will provide important new insights into the progression of the disease.
Hope for the future
Solid neural tumours, such as glioblastoma and neuroblastoma, are some of the deadliest types of cancer. In the UK, brain tumours are the leading cause of cancer deaths in those under 40. Unfortunately, most brain tumours return despite treatment They are also not very well understood, and we need to learn more about the causes of the development and spread of brain cancers if we can hope to find a cure.
Professor Christos Delidakis and his team are studying how mutations to some genes may make brain tumours more or less aggressive, enable them to spread to other parts of the body, and send signals that promote muscle and fat loss around the body. They hope that by pinpointing which genes give brain tumours this ability they can uncover useful knowledge that will help develop new cancer cures in future.
Meet the scientist
Professor Delidakis is a Group Leader at the Foundation for Research and Techology-Hellas, Greece. His research focuses on trying to understand how cells communicate with each other, and what happens when these processes don’t work as they should.
Many cancer researchers use animal models of cancer and tumours to study how they develop and spread. They are an incredibly useful tool that allow researchers to narrow down specific genes and activity within tumours.
Professor Delidakis and his team have developed a model of brain tumours in fruit flies. Through this work, they found that brain tumours acquire a lot of genetic mutations around the time they start to spread to other parts of the body. They also found that brain tumours seem to start sending out signals that cause muscle and fat loss even before new tumours start growing in other organs, as seen in cachexia or ‘wasting disease’.
The researchers now plan to pinpoint exactly which genetic mutations brain tumours need to acquire to gain the ability to spread, what changes those mutations are causing, and how tumours send out signals for damaging tissue loss. They hope that this will be an important step forward in our understanding of brain cancer, and that their method of studying brain cancer in fruit flies could be used in future to study other cancer and find effective treatments.
Approximately 300,000 people worldwide were diagnosed with brain or central nervous system cancers in 2020.
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