Weakened interactions between immune proteins known as cytokines could be a biomarker for early diagnosis of brain cancer, according to researchers at Ohio State. The findings – which were published in the journal, PLOS One – could help clinicians offer treatment to patients before symptoms develop.
Gliomas are the most common type of brain cancer, which account for approximately 80 percent of all diagnoses. By the time a patient is diagnosed with brain cancer, the tumor has usually progressed significantly, contributing to an average post-diagnosis survival of just 14 months.
According to lead researcher Dr. Judith Schwartzbaum, the changes in the immune interactions can be detected in blood samples a full five years before brain cancer is currently diagnosed. Gliomas are commonly diagnosed a few months after a patient first starts to notice symptoms, which range from headaches and difficulty speaking to memory loss and changes in personality.
“It’s important to identify the early stages of tumor development if we hope to intervene more effectively,” said Schwartzbaum, who is also an associate professor of epidemiology and member of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “If you understand those early steps, maybe you can design treatments to block further tumor growth.”
In their study, Shwartzbaum and her colleagues analyzed blood samples from nearly 1,000 patients as part of Norway’s Janus Serum Bank. About 50 percent of the patients included in the study were diagnosed with a brain tumor within a few years of when the blood samples were taken.
Cytokine activity has a dual role in cancer development; the proteins can help the immune system fight tumor development but they can also act in the opposite way by suppressing the immune system in response to cancer growth. In all, 277 cytokines were studied in the patients’ blood samples, with researchers focusing on the interactions of the proteins.
“There was a clear weakening of those interactions in the group who developed brain cancer and it’s possible this plays a role in tumor growth and development,” said Schwartzbaum. “It’s possible this could also happen with other tumors – that this is a general sign of tumor development.”