Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of brain and spinal cord cancer that typically affects brain tissues, usually the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Treatment options for the debilitating brain cancer tend to lower white blood cell counts for six months to a year, which inadvertently impacts patient survival rates.
Scientists and researchers have tried to determine the specific cause of this extended drop in white blood cell levels and its impact on survivability for years with little success. New research from the St. Louis Washington University School of Medicine has now revealed one probable reason for the lower white blood cell count in glioblastoma patients undergoing treatment. The study also pointed out a possible strategy for treatment that improved survival rates in mice.
Patients with glioblastoma typically have a short survival rate of 18 months, with standard radiation treatments often resulting in a severe drop in a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are usually made in the bone marrow, and they play a major role in making antibodies, controlling immune responses and killing tumor cells.
Since treatments for glioblastoma don’t usually target the bone marrow, we still don’t know why they result in extremely low white blood cell counts, especially as some people don’t exhibit this side effect while others do. Jiayi Huang, the co-clinical director of the Siteman Cancer Center’s Brain Tumor Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and an associate professor of radiation oncology, noted that patients who experienced low lymphocyte counts during treatment typically have worse outcomes than average.
He explained that they would have to determine the specific cause of low lymphocyte counts and why they impact patient survival rates in order to extend their lives and improve patient outcomes after diagnosis and treatment. For the study, the team of researchers collected blood samples from patients with glioblastoma and analyzed the samples.
The researchers found that nearly one-half of the patients developed low lymphocyte counts after treatment and that they exhibited increased levels of suppressor cells derived from myeloid. This is a kind of cell that suppresses the immune system.
Using mouse studies, the researchers found that there was indeed a causal link between higher levels of myeloid-derived suppressor cells due to tumor irradiation and reduced white blood cell counts.
Senior corresponding author of the study, Dinesh Thotala, stated that the researchers wanted to determine if using an inhibitor to block the myeloid-derived suppressor cells could improve the patients’ treatment response and increase their survival rates. The researchers discovered that separately using two inhibitors alongside radiation treatment resulted in a “significant improvement” in several mice models of glioblastoma.
On average, the mice with glioblastoma that received one of the two inhibitors plus radiation treatment lived up to day 120 at the end of the experiment while those that didn’t receive the inhibitor all died by day 40.
With many other companies such as CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) conducting research on how to treat cancer more effectively, significant breakthroughs could be made that may change the trajectory of cancer treatment in future.
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