Brain scans could diagnose and monitor glioma brain tumours

In collaboration with the Press Association

Research into the most common type of brain tumour has uncovered a way to monitor the disease using the latest imaging technologies - dispensing with the need for invasive surgery.

The new method - discussed in two papers published in the journal Science Translational Medicine - uses a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to track chemicals associated with genetic mutations inside gliomas.

Tumours of the central nervous systems are graded according to their capacity to grow and spread, but this grading doesn't always accurately predict how a tumour will develop and respond to treatment. So researchers have been looking for a better way to classify and track the disease.

About 7 in 10 patients with gliomas have faults in the gene that produces the IDH1 enzyme. These patients usually live longer than patients without the gene faults.

The faults cause the enzyme to overproduce a molecule called 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG), which studies have shown may be associated with increased patient survival.

To find out whether this could be used to track the disease, Adam Elkhaled and colleagues from the University of California took 104 tissue samples from 52 patients with various stage gliomas. Using MRS, the team were able to detect 2HG in 86 per cent of tumour samples that had a faulty IDH1 enzyme.

Meanwhile, in a separate study, a team led by Ovidiu Cristian Andronesi of Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked out how to use MRS to detect levels of 2HG - and hence the presence of IDH1 mutations - in patients with gliomas - as opposed to in tumour samples.

Taken together, the results suggests the new technique could help doctors diagnose gliomas and also help track patients' response to treatment.

Dr Susan Short, a Cancer Research UK brain tumour expert, said that the work represented a major advance in the field.

She added: "This is a very exciting development in glioma research, as it&aposs the first time that scientists have found a way to diagnose this type of brain tumour without the need for invasive surgery.

"It was only a few years ago that scientists discovered that IDH1 faults were more common in glioma patients who live longer, so it's encouraging to see that they have now built on this work and found a way to grade tumours by detecting this gene using magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

"This work needs to be confirmed in larger groups of patients before routine clinical use, but it suggests that grading a tumour by non-invasive imaging could soon be used to help diagnose patients and select appropriate treatments. Imaging could also be used to monitor whether a patient is responding to treatment or not."

Copyright Press Association 2012