Driscoll Laboratory: Metastasis

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The laboratory of James Driscoll, MD, PhD, at the UC Brain Tumor Center is performing novel research in the areas of primary and metastatic brain tumors. The investigator-initiated research seeks discoveries that can lead to promising new treatments and Phase I clinical trials.

MicroRNA and Brain Metastasis

James Driscoll, MD, PhD

Dr. Driscoll uses the analogy of seed and soil to describe brain metastasis. Just as a dandelion’s seeds break away, blow in the wind and land in the soil, a lung or breast cancer’s cells break off and spread through the bloodstream and settle in another part of the body. And just as dandelions sprout anew in fertile, nutrient-rich soil, cancer cells take root as new tumors when they settle in the brain.

The source of nutrients, Dr. Driscoll says, is healthy brain cells. He and his research team have looked at how normal brain cells provide nutrients to invading cancer cells and cause uncontrolled growth. A signal called microRNA stimulates the tumor cells to grow uncontrollably, while activating a force field that protects the cancer cells from chemotherapy. The result is a brain metastasis that is growing rapidly and is resistant to our common therapies.

Dr. Driscoll’s next step is to introduce a suppressor that blocks that microRNA signal, thereby preventing the cancer cell from receiving nutrients from healthy brain cells. This, in turn, causes the cancer cells to wither and die, like dandelion seeds that land on dry, barren soil. Dr. Driscoll is now testing the therapy in an animal model. If successful, it could lead to a phase I clinical trial for brain metastasis in early 2014.

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