Molecule targets brain tumors, offers hope for treatment
Researchers at the University of California (UC) Davis Cancer Center reported that they have discovered a molecule that targets glioblastoma, currently an incurable cancer, according to a study published in the January issue of the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.

“These brain tumors are currently treated with surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible followed by radiation to kill cancer cells left behind and systemic chemotherapy to prevent spread to nearby tissues," said Kit Lam, senior author of the study and chief of hematology and oncology at UC Davis in Sacramento, Calif. "It is unfortunate that this approach does not extend survival significantly. Most patients survive less than one year."

To find new options for treating the disease, Lam and his colleagues searched for a molecule that could be injected into a patient's bloodstream to deliver high concentrations of medication or radionuclides directly to brain tumor cells while sparing normal tissues. They were able to identify a molecule called LXY1 that binds with high specificity to the cell-surface protein, alpha-3 integrin, which is overexpressed on cancer cells.

They also tested the molecule's ability to target brain cancer by implanting human glioblastoma cells both beneath the skin and in the brains of mice. The researchers injected the mice with a radiolabeled version of LXY1 and, using near-infrared fluorescence imaging, showed that the molecule did preferentially bind to human glioblastoma cells in both locations.

Lam said that the results of the study offer “great hope that we will be able to deliver targeted therapies to treat glioblastoma.”

Lam plans to repeat the experiments with cancer treatments linked to the LXY1 molecule. They will begin with iodine-131, as well as a nanoparticle, or "smart bomb," that would carry cancer-fighting drugs to diseased cells.

The National Institutes of Health funded the research with a grant.