An existing drug used to improve insulin delivery could also be used to treat an aggressive and deadly brain tumour, known as glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma (GBM) is a fast-growing tumour that spreads in a web like fashion to infiltrate multiple areas of the brain. As it is not a compact tumour, it is extremely difficult to operate on and patient survival rate is low.

Scientists suspected that surfen, a positively charged molecule used to optimise the delivery of insulin, could bind effectively with the negatively charged sugars that the brain relies on for energy. It is suspected that GBM utilises the highly charged brain environment to aid invasion.

The researchers first investigated the binding interactions between the brain tumour and surfen. They then introduced aggressive GBM tumours into mice. Mice treated with surfen showed smaller and more contained tumours, that lacked the web-like filaments that enabled GBM to spread throughout the brain. More compact tumours would be much easier to operate on. The researchers believe that surfen works by blocking the tumour’s access to the brain surface.

To investigate the therapeutic potential of surfen further researchers turned their attention to glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), highly negatively charged molecules produced by brain tumours. By preventing GBM from releasing these molecules, they were able to hinder the tumour’s ability to invade.

It is possible that surfen and blocking GAGs could be combined to provide an effective treatment for the deadly cancer.

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