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The deadliest brain tumor now has its own atlas

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Researchers analyzed the tumors from 41 patients

Ivy Glioblastoma Atlas Project

By annotating the active genes and structures that make up glioblastoma tumors, researchers have created a roadmap for the deadliest form of brain cancer. The project, announced last week, is available to everyone and can be perused at will.

Patients have a 30 percent chance of remaining alive for two years

"Nobody has made a glioblastoma atlas that shows what we've done, [which is] to analyze the tumors from 41 patients in depth," explains Ralph Puchalski, principal investigator at the Ivy Glioblastoma Project and a cancer biologist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. "We showed which genes are active in which features and where those features are located and then how much surface area they cover in each slice of the tumor."

Glioblastomas are highly cancerous brain tumors that originate from astrocytes, the star-shaped cells that make up supportive tissue of the brain. They represent about 15 percent of all brain tumors, and people who are diagnosed with this type of brain tumor have a 30 percent chance of remaining alive for two years after their initial diagnosis. In short, it’s pretty devastating. That’s why researchers are trying to find out more about what makes this tumor so aggressive.

Ivy Glioblastoma Atlas Project

To create the atlas, researchers had to analyze tumors belonging to over 40 patients. This, Puchalski says, is a number large enough to get a representative idea of what all tumors of this type look like. Some of the genes that the researchers were able to identify were already known to science, but the team went one step further. "We have gone much deeper, and we're looking at specific regions within glioblastoma, which have not been done on a widespread basis before," he says.

This is really just a first step; the point of making an Atlas isn’t to come up with a new treatment right away. That said, it could help researchers come up with something down the line.

"Right now, there aren't a lot of good options for glioblastoma patients. If 90 percent of people die within five years, that's not good," Puchalski says. A few things can improve your chances, however — factors like age and the ability to remove large sections of the tumor. Response to therapy is also correlated with better outcome, but few therapy options exist, Puchalski says. That’s where the Atlas comes in. "We believe new therapies will be developed from using our atlas; [researchers will] leverage our atlas to develop new therapies at pharmaceutical companies, major research institutions and academic centers," he says. "That's what we believe is going to make the difference."

To check out the Atlas, visit this page.