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HCI Breakthrough Seven Years in the Making




Gliomas are tumors that arise from the cells in the brain and spinal cord that surround nerves. They’re the most common type of tumor that develops in the area. Despite this, scientists have struggled for years to understand how they develop and grow. Ten years ago, a study found a mutation in a gene called IDH1 that kept showing up in tumors. In the time since, cancer researchers have been unable to understand exactly how the mutation is involved in cancer.

Studies have, however, tied the mutation to several other types of cancer—some kinds of leukemia, prostate cancer, melanoma, and lymphoma—making the race to understand the mutation even more important.

More than seven years ago, Huntsman Cancer Institute researcher Sheri Holmen and a team of international researchers and doctors got to work on the question. First, they looked at cells grown in petri dishes. Those experiments suggested the IDH1 mutation might be key in the process of glioma development. So the team moved to tests in mice.

Holmen and her team write in the study that research into this question was held back by difficulty getting gliomas to grow in mice. Researchers had come to an understanding that the mutation in IDH1 alone couldn’t cause cancer to occur. When they introduced several genetic changes tumors grew, and Holmen’s team showed that IDH1 is involved in tumor development and growth. No study has been able to establish this before; in fact, they are the first team on earth to develop this kind of glioma in a living organism.

Glioma Pull Quote

In successfully establishing a mouse model of gliomas, Holmen’s team not only learned how the mutation works, but also spotted a vulnerability in that mechanism which could be exploited by a drug. Holmen says she hopes the breakthrough either helps patients by keeping their tumors from growing after their cancer is caught, or by potentially destroying tumors.

The team’s next move is to test potential drugs in mice aimed at the vulnerability they found. They’ll start evaluating how useful each chemical is and how it might affect humans.


Glioma. (2018, March 03). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glioma/symptoms-causes/syc-20350251 

Holmen, S. L. (2018). Mutant IDH1 Promotes Glioma Formation In Vivo. Cell Reports,23(5), 1553-1564. Retrieved from https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(18)30521-7.

Persistence Pays Off in Discovery That Could Lead to Improved Treatment and Survivability of Patients with Brain Tumors. (2018, May 1). Retrieved from https://huntsmancancer.org/newsroom/2018/05/improved-treatment-and-survivability-of-patients-with-brain-tumors.php 


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