R.I. Hospital researchers granted $3.9M to study aggressive brain cancer

RESEARCHERS at Rhode Island Hospital have been awarded $3.9 million by the Warren Alpert Foundation to study and fight glioblastoma, an aggressive and difficult-to-treat form of brain cancer. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND HOSPITAL
RESEARCHERS at Rhode Island Hospital have been awarded $3.9 million by the Warren Alpert Foundation to study and fight glioblastoma, an aggressive and difficult-to-treat form of brain cancer. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND HOSPITAL

PROVIDENCE – Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital have received a $3.9 million grant from the Warren Alpert Foundation to study a highly aggressive and intractable form of cancer of the brain, the hospital announced Thursday.

The type of cancer, glioblastoma, is notorious for invading brain tissue, evading treatment and leads to high rates of recurrence, the hospital noted. The median survival time following diagnosis of the cancer is just two years.

The group of physician-scientist researchers will explore the role of epigenetics in the progression of the disease. Epigenetics is the study of how genes are modified without changing the underlying DNA.

The study will examine the potential of using RNA-based mechanisms to stop the migration of the cancer, by targeting proteins rather than genes for treatment. RNA passes information from DNA to proteins.

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The study will be led by Dr. Steven A. Toms, a neurosurgeon and the director of the Brain Tumor Program for the Lifespan Cancer Institute and vice chair of the Department of Neurology at Rhode Island Hospital, and Dr. Nikos Tapinos, an associate professor at the Department of Neurosurgery and director of molecular neuroscience and neuro-oncology research at Rhode Island Hospital.

“We believe that the RNA-based mechanisms that allow for modifications of gene expression are the ones that we’re going to be able to leverage in cancer therapeutics,” said Tapinos. “If you’re looking at the story of cancer, most all of it involves the epigenetic component.”

The hospital said that understanding how modification produces abnormal cells could aid in the treatment of glioblastoma.

“Glioma tumor cells, as we treat them, adapt to their environment – so what’s really happening in patients’ bodies in real time is evolution in action,” said Toms. “We’re exploring an entirely new front for Glioblastoma and epigenetics.”

The Warren Alpert Foundation is based in Providence and was founded by philanthropist Warren Alpert, founder of Warren Equities Inc.

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