Consortium of international hospitals receives $11 million to conduct study of genetic brain tumors

December 04, 2006

HOUSTON - The National Cancer Institute recently awarded The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center an $11 million grant to lead the largest genetic study ever conducted on the causes and risk factors of adult and pediatric gliomas, or malignant, primary brain tumors.

Melissa Bondy, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at M. D. Anderson and director of the Childhood Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Center - a joint effort among M. D. Anderson, Texas Children's Cancer Center at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine - is principal investigator of the "Gliogene" study. This study will incorporate the combined research of an international consortium of brain tumor specialists, who will examine DNA of families with multiple brain tumors in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Israel. Beatrice Malmer, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at Umea University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, is the coordinating principal investigator of the study's European and Israeli collaborating institutions.

By identifying potential genetic predictors of hereditary gliomas, researchers hope to uncover important genetic information that may lead to improved treatment and prevention strategies.

Although only five percent of all brain tumors are inherited, this area of research is relatively neglected, but vital, for affected patients, said Bondy, who serves on the faculty of both M. D. Anderson and Baylor. Study leaders aim to screen approximately 15,000 individuals during the five-year study, in order to recruit approximately 400 families eligible for DNA analysis.

"Because so few researchers are tackling the mystery of brain tumor development, the collaboration of these excellent researchers is very important," said Bondy. "Brain tumor research is extremely challenging, yet rewarding, because any progress in this field translates into significant results down the road."

In addition to the grant from the National Cancer Institute, The American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) has provided funds to support the genetic analysis, which will be carried out in North America by Ching Lau, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and a researcher at the Texas Children's Cancer Center. The genetic analysis of patients in Europe and Israel will be conducted at the Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom.

"The hopes and dreams of countless individuals accompany this research grant to advance our understanding of brain tumor etiology," said Naomi Berkowitz, executive director of the ABTA.

As so little is known about the genetic abnormalities in gliomas, a wealth of information is waiting to be discovered, according to Bondy. The ABTA estimates that nearly 360,000 individuals in the United States are living after the diagnosis of a primary brain tumor. ABTA also reports that in most brain cancers there are no apparent risk factors.

"Studying rare and highly fatal cancer sites is very difficult," said Malmer. "Collaboration is the only fruitful way to see considerable progress in this field. We will continue to recruit other European centers to broaden the reach and impact of the Gliogene study."

To be eligible for participation in the Gliogene study, families must have two or more biologically related members who have been diagnosed with a primary brain tumor. Individuals who choose to participate in the study will be asked to complete a 45-minute family history and risk factor interview over the phone. Participants and their family members also will be asked to provide a small blood sample. As all aspects of the Gliogene study can be completed via phone or mail, participants do not need to live near one of the collaborating institutions. All family information will remain strictly confidential.

"By providing a family history and blood sample, patients and their families enable us to better understand the hereditary factors of this disease," said Bondy. "Participants' willingness to give minimal time and effort to the Gliogene study may potentially reap dividends for future brain tumor patients."
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This study is the largest collaboration to date involving researchers from the Childhood Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Center. In addition to M. D. Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Cancer Center, other American Gliogene collaborators include Brigham and Women's Hospital; Duke University; Evanston Northwestern Healthcare; Mayo Clinic; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Illinois, Chicago. European partners include Umea University Hospital, Sweden; the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Denmark; the Institute of Cancer Research, United Kingdom and Gertner Institute, Israel.

Researchers from across the globe will gather to kick off the study Dec. 6-7 at M. D. Anderson.

Patients are encouraged to visit the Gliogene Web site, http://braintumor.epigenetic.org for more information.

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

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