The Search for New Brain Cancer Treatments
Brain cancer is one of the hardest cancers to treat. It is a leading cause of cancer death in children and young adults. Every year, about 3,000 Canadians are diagnosed with it, and 2,400 die from it. Moreover, brain cancer survivors often suffer serious, long-term adverse effects of both the cancer and its treatment.
Dr. Xi Huang, Canada Research Chair in Cancer Biophysics, is combining electrophysiology, cell biology, and rapid genetic screening techniques (using fruit flies, mice and patient tumour samples) to study the biophysical basis of brain tumours.
Focusing on two of the most common brain tumours in adults and children—glioblastoma multiform and medulloblastoma, respectively—Huang and his research team are examining the role of ion channels in tumour development. Specifically, they are exploring how brain tumour growth is controlled by the bioelectrical and biomechanical properties regulated by ion channels—the “gates” of cell membranes that control the movement of ions like potassium, sodium, calcium and chloride across cells in our bodies.
By identifying which ion channels regulate brain tumours, Huang and his team are also discovering and developing new drugs that can target these channels and block brain cancer growth. With this innovative approach, Huang is improving our understanding of how brain tumours form and progress. His work may also lead to new treatments and hope for people with brain cancer worldwide.