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UA research team works toward drug that could treat deadly brain cancer

(University of Arizona photo/Anna C. Christensen)

PHOENIX — A team of researchers at the University of Arizona has been determined to find a way to help those suffering from glioblastoma, the deadly brain cancer that killed Sens. Edward Kennedy and John McCain.

The university announced in a news release last week that it has discovered that long-term glioblastoma survivors manufacture a certain protein that may be able to be used to help victims live longer.

After looking through 800 genes in 23 glioblastoma samples, they identified the WIF-1 gene, which creates that protein, as a strong predictor of long-term survival.

The work is still in early stages, though — the team said it is still many years and millions of dollars away from an actual treatment.

“Glioblastoma essentially is incurable,” Dr. Baldassarre Steahead of the UA College of Medicine’s Tucson Department of Radiation Oncology, said in the release.

“In the past 15 years, only one drug — temozolomide — has been invented, whereas the rest of the cancer field is zooming forward,” he said.

Adults with glioblastoma survive, on average, for 11 to 15 months following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

The team’s preliminary research was partly funded by one of Stea’s patients, who has lived with glioblastoma for over three years.

He hoped that the money could help other victims survive for as long as he has.

The team is collaborating with Tech Launch Arizona to file a patent pertaining to the research.

“I think we have reached the apex of what the surgeon can do, and have achieved the most we can with radiation,” Stea said.

“The cure will not come from more radiation or more surgery — glioblastoma is a genetic problem that we have to solve genetically,” he said.

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