Testing for Brain Cancer

Glioblastoma and metastasis monitoring with microRNA via cerebrospinal fluid

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) There's nothing simple about brain surgery, and even a minor biopsy carries substantial risks. To get around these dangers, using a spinal tap to analyze cerebrospinal fluid may soon be a viable method of diagnosing brain cancers.

A study published recently showed that analysis of microRNA levels in cerebrospinal fluid proved to be a quick, effective tool for diagnosing brain cancers.

Researchers found that this tool could also monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

"Ask your oncologist about microRNA analysis."

A joint venture between Brigham and Women's Hospital and the University of California in San Diego showed that the levels of specific microRNAs, miR-10b and miR-21, were significantly increased in patients with active brain tumors or tumor metastasis to the brain from breast or lung cancers.

The levels of these microRNAs were lower in cases where the tumor was in remission, or the lesion was benign (non-cancerous).This could soon give doctors the ability to find out relatively quickly with a simple test whether an abnormal lesion in the brain is an aggressive cancer or a benign growth without performing surgery.

"We are excited about the potential that this test has to ease the process of detecting and monitoring brain tumors," said Anna M. Krichevsky, PhD, the study author from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"The test needs to be further developed before it is used in a clinical setting, but I expect it could be particularly valuable for patients who are not surgical candidates due to the tumor's size or location, or due to an underlying medical condition."

The study enrolled 118 patients, analyzing microRNA levels in the cerebrospinal fluid and comparing results with other, traditional methods of brain tumor analysis.

While there are risks with the sampling of cerebrospinal fluid, it is not as prone to complications as other types of detecting or analyzing brain cancer, which generally means a surgical biopsy or brain surgery.

The test worked for detecting glioblastoma as well as metastatic brain tumors from other parts of the body.

Researchers concluded that the cerebrospinal fluid test was also an effective tool for monitoring the effectiveness of treatment, and further development of the test could improve chemotherapy or radiation effectiveness in glioblastoma.

The study was published in the journal Neuro-Oncology on April 17, 2012.

A patent related to the test is pending. The study was funded by National Institutes of Health, the Sontag Foundation and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 24, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2012