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Photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz from Department of Defense

Researchers at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine recently developed a promising new treatment for glioblastoma, the specific type of cancer that led to the death of the U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Aug. 25. Former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden, died of the same cancer. The study was published in the Nature Communications journal two days following McCain's death.

Glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, is often resistant to a treatment called anti-VEGF therapy, reported the Philly Voice. This common approach involves a drug that works to block the tumor's access to VEGF, a protein that produces blood vessels. Through this treatment, tumors should theoretically lose access to nutrients and oxygen necessary for survival. 

This standard treatment approach, however, has "encountered difficulties and failures in treating most malignant cancers," the Penn Medicine study said, which is why glioblastoma has such a high fatality rate. It is considered so deadly because the tumor works to transform cells into treatment-resistant bodies, so finding an effective treatment has proven difficult.

Now, Yi Fan, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Penn, developed a new approach that has much more promise. Fan, leading a team of researchers, created a drug that, when used in collaboration with the anti-VEGF therapy, might increase the chances of survival. The team experimented on mice and found that this combination sensitizes glioblastoma in mice to anti-VEGF therapy, essentially increasing the effectiveness of the treatment. 

The idea behind the new development is that this new inhibitor will block the pathway of the PDGF protein, which is involved in the tumor's cell growth. The inhibitor, working with anti-VEGF therapy, helps obstruct the tumor's ability to transform cells into therapy-resistant cells.

“This could be the key to solving the biggest problem in the field of anti-vascular cancer therapies … our study shows the flaw is in the current treatment, not the concept itself,” Fan told Penn Medicine. 

Fan's future research will involve using the drug on humans suffering from glioblastoma, which 24,000 Americans are predicted to be diagnosed with this year, according to the American Cancer Society.