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.


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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