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How Normal Cells Become Brain Cancers

By Jason Bardi, Public Affairs | September 29, 2011

Brain tumor specimens taken from neurosurgery cases at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center has given scientists a new window on the transformation that occurs as healthy brain cells begin to form tumors.

The work may help identify new drugs to target oligodendroglioma, a common type of brain tumor, at its earliest stage, when it is generally most treatable. Any potential drugs identified will have to prove safe and effective in clinical trials, a process that can take several years.

Representative NG2+ cell pairs from tumor and non-neoplastic tissue stained for NG2 and EGFR. Scale bars represent 10 μM. Full size
As described in the journal Cancer Cell this month, the UCSF team found that the pool of cells from which oligodendroglioma tumors emerge normally divide “asymmetrically” by splitting into two unequal parts – like giving birth to fraternal twins who look different and have distinct fates. When these normal cells transform into cancer cells, they switch gears and begin dividing symmetrically, essentially giving birth to identical twins instead.

C.Petritsch

Claudia Petritsch, PhD


"This happens early – before the tumor forms, and it may provide a point to intervene in the process of tumor initiation," said Claudia Petritsch, PhD, an assistant professor with the UCSF Brain Tumor Research Center who led the research.

Read more at Jason Bardi, Public Affairs