Every year, 150 to 300 children in the United States are diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPGs), aggressive and lethal tumors that grow deep inside the brain, for which there are no cures. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers showed that experimental drugs designed to lower the body’s natural production of alpha-ketoglutarate extended the lives of mice harboring DIPG tumors by slowing the growth of the cancer cells. Interestingly, they also found that artificially raising alpha-ketoglutarate levels with DIPG-causing genes may slow the growth of other brain tumors.
The results, published in Cancer Cell, were part of a nationwide study that explored the cyclical role that cancer cell metabolism may play in regulating brain tumor genes. For years scientists knew that cancer genes often alter the metabolism of tumors. In this study, the researchers not only found that this may be true for patients with H3K27M tumors but also that these alterations in metabolism may be part of a feedback loop involving alpha-ketoglutarate (α-KG), that epigenetically keeps these and other brain tumors in a cancerous state.