RCSI researchers discover new brain tumour subtypes that may identify treatment for incurable brain cancer

Research lead by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has discovered three new subtypes of brain tumour which could help to identify new and effective therapies. The novel tumour subtypes are forms of glioblastoma, the most common and most aggressive form of adult primary brain cancer with no cure currently available.

The research, published in Annals of Oncology, has identified that glioblastoma tumours can be placed into three categories based on the different kind of non-cancer cells that can be found within the tumour. These so-called tumour microenvironment cells can include immune cells and blood vessel cells.

Currently, the majority of patients with glioblastoma are treated in the same way. Further investigation of these newly identified subtypes will mean that different patients could receive treatment specific to the cells in their own tumour. This type of targeted treatment is known as ‘precision medicine’.

Senior Author and Lead Investigator, Professor Annette Byrne, Head of the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group commented: “Glioblastoma patients currently have a poor prognosis due to limited treatment options so it is vital that new treatments be developed. Targeted treatment or ‘precision medicine’ has the potential to improve outcomes for these patients. We hope further analysis of the tumour subtypes identified in this research, will provide the data needed to support future glioblastoma clinical trials in Ireland”.

Precision medicine approaches could include the use of immune-targeting therapies (immunotherapies) in patients that have the tumour subtype defined by high levels of immune cells within their tumour microenvironment. An assessment of glioblastoma clinical trial datasets by this research group provided support for this idea, showing that patients with this subtype of tumour may have an improved outcome when treated with immunotherapies compared to other subtypes.

The study’s first authors are Kieron White and Dr Kate Connor from the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group, Department of Physiology.

These RCSI-led findings result from a major collaborative initiative which also involved clinical colleagues from the National Centre of Neurosurgery, Beaumont Hospital Dublin (Ireland), members of the GLIOTRAIN brain tumour research consortium ( (INSERM and the Paris Brain Institute ICM, VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Cancer Biology, The Jackson Laboratory Erasmus MC), and several clinical collaborators from leading US brain tumour research Centres

The study was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSC) ITN initiative (Grant Agreement 766069, ‘GLIOTRAIN’) and the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under the MSC Doctoral Networks grant agreement No 101073386 (GLIORESOLVE). The authors also acknowledge funding from Brain Tumour Ireland which established the Beaumont Hospital Brain Tumour Biorepository.

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Professor Annette Byrne, Head of the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Photo credit: Patrick Bolger

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