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Gene Variant Yields Clues to Brain Cancer

Patients with specific variation survived nearly twice as long

FRIDAY, April 22, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A specific genetic trait appears to double the survival rate of patients with the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme, researchers report.

The finding suggests potential new treatment directions for patients with this highly lethal cancer.

Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, studied 301 patients and found that 36 patients carrying the "SS" variant of the hTERT gene survived an average of 25 months, compared to just 14 months in patients with either the "SL" or "LL" variants of the gene.

The hTERT gene produces telomerase, an enzyme that helps to regulate the length of telomeres -- structures that cap chromosome in the cell and help control cell division. In adult cells, telomerase is usually inactive, but experts believe it gets re-activated in cancer cells, helping to explain their uncontrolled division.

The finding that a particular hTERT gene variant might influence telomerase function in brain cancer cells "is a real advance, because we have never seen any genotype that can stratify glioblastoma multiformre patients into different treatment outcome groups like this," lead investigator Melissa Bondy, a professor in the department of epidemiology, said in a prepared statement.

"Now we need to verify the finding, study the mechanism, and see if there is a way that these results can be used either as a biomarker or to individualize treatment," she said.

The findings were presented April 18 at the American Association of Cancer Research annual meeting, in Anaheim, Calif.

More information

The Brain Tumor Society has information about common brain tumors.

SOURCE: University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, news release, April 18, 2005
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