Oncology Central

Uncovering cancer stem cells in oligodendrogliomas

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In this interview, Oncology Central spoke with Mario Suva (Massachusetts General Hospital) to find out a little more about his work looking into the biology of brain tumors  and recent work his lab has carried out in oligodendroglioma; a study that represents the largest effort ever undertaken to characterize brain tumors at the single-cell level.

Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career to date? How did you become involved in researching the biology of brain tumors?

  • I am a clinical neuropathologist and a basic researcher in neurooncology. I grew up and trained in Switzerland, mostly in the area of Lausanne. My interest in brain tumors comes from my clinical training. It is after realizing the dismal prognosis of most patients with parenchymal brain tumors that I decided to dedicate my career to research into gliomas. I was attracted by the reputation of the science in Boston (MA, USA) and was fortunate to get a fellowship/postdoctoral position with David Louis and Brad Bernstein at Massachusetts General Hospital. After fundamental work on the epigenetic of brain tumors during my post-doc, I started my own lab at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2014. My lab is entirely dedicated to studying brain tumors both in adults and children.

What are oligodenrogliomas? What are the current treatment options and associated outcomes for patients with the disease?

  • Oligodendrogliomas are slow-growing brain tumors that primarily affect young adults. They are driven by mutations in the IDH1/2 genes and by loss of chromosome arms 1p and 19q. Current standard of care is radiation and chemotherapy, and the outcome varies but is the most favorable of diffuse gliomas (10–15 years).

Your recent study investigated the role of cancer stem cells in oligodendrogliomas – could you summarize the key results/conclusions from the study?

  • Our study represents the largest effort ever undertaken to characterize brain tumors at the single-cell level, directly in patient samples [1]. It is the first study deploying these techniques in low-grade gliomas – tumors that have proven very difficult to dissect due to the scarcity of animal and cellular models.

While we have a good understanding of the genetics of low-grade gliomas, we have a limited knowledge of the cell types and programs driving their growth. Our goal was to obtain a completely unbiased view of these tumors in patients and dissect both genetic events and nongenetic determinants of tumor heterogeneity.

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