Pilot study details new method to diagnose brain cancer without surgery

A team led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have devised a new, less-invasive technique that could one day be used to diagnose brain cancer and monitor a tumor’s response to treatment, without surgery.

The pilot study, published in the journal Neuro-Oncology, still needs to be tested more rigorously before it is used in patients, according to Anna Krichevsky, a neurobiologist at the Center of Neurologic Diseases at the Brigham, who led the research. But the promising technique might provide a powerful new tool to monitor the course of a brain cancer and how a tumor responds to treatment, and to give clinicians a better way to distinguish between different types of tumors.

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In the study, researchers focused on molecules that essentially act like genetic thermostats, regulating the activity of different genes. Those molecules, called microRNA’s, play a role in cancer, and the researchers — a team that also included clinicians and scientists from the Georg-August University in Germany and the University of California, San Diego — looked for seven tell-tale molecules in samples of cerebrospinal fluid from 118 patients for whom they also had brain tumor samples. Researchers found that microRNA’s provided a way of recognizing and differentiating glioblastoma, brain cancers that had metastasized from breast and lung cancers, and tumors in remission. They also found hints in a smaller subset of the patients that the tool could be used to monitor disease progression in a tumor.

The work is being patented. Krichevsky said that she hopes to follow up the pilot study by testing the technique more extensively.

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