New Clinical Tests for Monitoring Glioblastoma

Title: MicroRNA as a Biomarker Platform for Glioblastoma Testing
Investigators: Clark Chen, Bob Carter
Grantees: University of California San Diego, Regulus Therapeutics

In glioblastoma, a major need is a sensitive but minimally-invasive clinical tool for detecting when a tumor begins to recur and when it is or is not responding to drug treatment.  The tools currently available to do these important tasks are either relatively insensitive (and thus unable to detect important tumor changes or distinguish such changes from the toxic side-effects of prior therapy) or are invasive (and thus inappropriate for repeated use).  These drawbacks lead to unacceptable delays in recognizing tumor recurrence and therapy resistance.

To address this problem, ABC2 established a collaboration between the University of California San Diego and the biotechnology company Regulus Therapeutics.  This collaboration is drawing upon the expertise of both institutions to develop a new method for monitoring glioblastoma.  The idea is that brain tumors, including glioblastomas, release bubble-like pods of genetic information that travel through the fluid surrounding the brain and eventually reach the blood.  These pods of genetic information reflect tumor characteristics relevant to recurrence and treatment response and – because brain fluid and blood are so much easier to collect than tumor tissue – could provide an access point for minimally-invasive tumor monitoring.

The collaboration established by ABC2 has already identified a panel of just ten pieces of genetic information contained in pods collected from brain fluid that provides a glioblastoma-specific disease signature.  The collaboration is now working to confirm the signature’s accuracy and pinpoint additional pieces of genetic information that differentiate glioblastoma progression from the side-effects of prior therapy.  Because blood is even more easily accessible than brain fluid, this collaboration also hopes to develop an analogous method for monitoring glioblastoma using pods of genetic information distilled from the blood.

ABC2's involvement helped to expand Regulus Therapeutics' research portfolio to include brain cancer and lay the groundwork for diagnostic and therapeutic advances.  If the ABC2-funded collaboration is successful, it will develop a minimally-invasive, brain-fluid based method for monitoring glioblastoma and a starting point for a blood-based diagnostic, both of which could enable earlier glioblastoma detection and improved treatment.