Brain Cancer Treatments Are Getting A New Boost From This Unexpected Drug

You'd never think to take Tylenol for a cough or decongestant for a stomachache. In the cancer world, however, scientists are learning that drugs used to treat one type of cancer may be useful in treating a completely different kind of cancer. This is thanks to a study that unveiled new findings on using genetic sequencing to diagnose and treat cancers.

The study, published in Nature Genetics, looked at data from 565 tumors taken from patients with meningioma, a type of brain cancer, who had been followed up on for five to six years (via MedicalNewsToday). Researchers analyzed two aspects of the genes: the level of methylation and the number of repeats in copy number variants (CNVs). Methylation status refers to whether a "methyl group" is present in a gene, which affects whether the gene is expressed or not. Similarly, the number of CNV repeats, which can vary greatly from person to person, also determines the level of expression of a gene. The study found that by looking at these two factors together, three different grades of tumors could be identified, which helped determine the patients' outcomes.

How gene expression can help determine treatment

Using this information, scientists used a drug typically used to treat breast cancer patients called abemaciclib on mice with meningioma tumors (via MedicalNewsToday). They found that the drug could be successful in treating meningioma patients with two of the three grades of tumors. Since it's been difficult for researchers to identify drugs that can reliably treat meningioma, the identification of these two biomarkers may be helpful in knowing which patients would benefit from particular treatments.

Dr. Stephen Magill, the study's lead author, expressed the importance of continuing to learn about the biology of those with meningioma (via MedicalNewsToday). Understanding biomarkers can help to identify who could go into a clinical trial and who could be treated more successfully. Beyond just a diagnosis of meningioma, doctors could be able to specify the diagnosis to the exact grade of cancer. Since gene expression, also known as epigenetics, isn't very well studied yet in relation to cancer, this research is important for future studies.