The frog lies there, all splayed out and pinned. It will no longer ribbit or hop. Gone are its chances of being transformed into a prince with a simple kiss. Yet, this formaldehyde-soaked creature still fascinates. For it reveals to young eyes caught up in an anatomy lesson, just how intricate and miraculous biological bodies truly are.

Take the exposed brain peeking at the dissector through a hole in the frog’s cranium, for instance. Translucent lobes glisten in the fluorescent light. These lobes and other brain parts are the locus for everything that makes us (and even the frog) who we are. It’s the most terrifying of circumstances when a person is robbed of their very identity by brain cancer.

Glioblastoma, which has been in the news recently (both in politics and sports), is a particularly nasty form of brain cancer. It is highly aggressive, rapidly pillaging a person’s identity. It comes without any significant warning, perhaps via generic symptoms like a headache or nausea (Geez. This sounds like how a lot of things start.) (Young, Jamshidi, Davis, & Sherman, 2015). Victims can also experience a change in personality or memory loss pending on where in the brain the cancer is located (Young et al., 2015). Even with treatment, the average victim can fend off the pillager for only a little while (Davis, 2016; Young et al., 2015).

New and better treatments are obviously needed, which in turn require a better understanding of this plunderer. In an elegant assay, researchers demonstrated that the environment (not the genes) dictates the cancer’s pilfering path (Miller et al., 2017). Pending the testing (environmental) conditions, different proteins that regulate the making of RNA (a message for making protein) are activated. This in turn can affect how responsive the tumors are to certain chemotherapies (Miller et al., 2017). Given how these proteins (i.e., transcription factors) wielded such a huge impact on how the tumor responded to its environment, this work suggests that transcription factors are logical targets for new therapeutics.

It is still too soon to tell if this work will result in new therapeutics that safeguard our repository of uniqueness. We can be cautiously optimistic, but other research may burst that beautiful bubble (Mak, Evaniew, & Ghert, 2014). More and more evidence continues to show that what may save the life of lab animals will not work for us experimenters (Ugh).

So, what are we to do? Sit around, look pretty and twiddle our thumbs? No! We need to rise and emit some battle cries. We must guard that optimistic bubble. New procedures are needed to improve the translation of successes in the lab to the clinic. We also need to continue developing new defenses against glioblastoma. If we can develop better sentries (diagnostics), it is possible to spot the marauding tumors sooner. Even Dr. Philip E. Steig (founder and Chairman of Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center) shares in this optimism that earlier detection, improved knowledge and new treatments could improve the odds of the cancer going into remission (Steig, 2016). The sooner we can tell if that headache is nothing versus cancer, the sooner we can battle and hold onto what constitutes our (and the frog’s) beautiful individuality.

References

Davis, M. E. (2016). Glioblastoma: Overview of Disease and Treatment. Clin J Oncol Nurs, 20(5), S2-8. doi:10.1188/16.CJON.S1.2-8

Mak, I. W., Evaniew, N., & Ghert, M. (2014). Lost in translation: animal models and clinical trials in cancer treatment. Am J Transl Res, 6(2), 114-118.

Miller, T. E., Liau, B. B., Wallace, L. C., Morton, A. R., Xie, Q., Dixit, D., . . . Rich, J. N. (2017). Transcription elongation factors represent in vivo cancer dependencies in glioblastoma. Nature, 547(7663), 355-359. doi:10.1038/nature23000

Young, R. M., Jamshidi, A., Davis, G., & Sherman, J. H. (2015). Current trends in the surgical management and treatment of adult glioblastoma. Ann Transl Med, 3(9), 121. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2015.05.10

Steig, P.E. (2016, August 8). Early Detection Can Be Key to Surviving a Brain Tumor. Retrieved from http://weillcornellbrainandspine.org/early-detection-can-be-key-surviving-brain-tumor.