Glioblastoma: Treatment Stagnation and Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Thomas Michael Benjamin Ware
Glioblastoma, a WHO grade IV primary brain tumour, remains as one of the most aggressive forms of human cancer. Despite intensive research efforts into understanding the key drivers of tumour progression, few therapeutic advances have been made, with the current standard of care (the Stupp protocol) remaining unchanged for 15 years. The overall improvement to glioblastoma survival in the real-world population has been attributed to the use of the Stupp protocol, yet evidence suggests that survival outcomes were already significantly improving in the years prior to the introduction of this standard of care questioning the overall veracity of this claim. Using the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registry data we analysed the survival outcomes for real-world glioblastoma patients diagnosed from 2000 – 2016. Our findings show a consistent incremental survival improvement that preceded the introduction of the Stupp protocol and continued to increase at the same rate till 2009, stagnating afterwards. Significantly, however, this survival improvement is short-term for patients, with no survival improvement observed in patients surviving more than 2 years. Additionally, with the exception of complete tumour resection, all treatment modalities did not improve survival beyond 2 years for glioblastoma. These findings highlight the clinical stagnation of glioblastoma treatment and highlight the inability of current treatments to target the underlying causes of tumour progression. Following the introduction of the Stupp protocol attempts to develop new treatment options have universally been disappointing with a close to 0% success rate for over 1000 phase II and above clinical trials. Conflictingly, many of the therapeutic agents tested have shown promising results in preclinical trials. Current preclinical models, however, test therapies against the primary tumour, which does not recapitulate the biology or targets of tumour recurrence. We therefore developed a highly sensitive luciferase-based glioblastoma mouse model capable of single cell detection in mouse tissue. Analysis of mouse brain tissue implanted with luciferase-labelled human glioblastoma U87MG or MU20 tumours revealed the presence of tumour cells ubiquitously spread across the supratentorial regions of the brain, and distally located from the primary tumour. These tumour cells were observed as single cells in U87MG implanted mice and clusters in MU20 glioblastoma cells. Remarkably, U87MG tumours did not exhibit invasive margins and were contained within an expansive growth phenotype, suggesting invasion-independent dissemination. Our model is consistent with reports of glioblastoma as a systemic brain disease and is capable of sensitive detection of disseminated tumour cells, a model of recurrence potential. Furthermore, this model can be utilised to investigate new mechanisms of glioblastoma infiltration. Targeting aberrant angiogenesis in glioblastoma has been the major focus for glioblastoma treatment since the Stupp protocol. Yet after over a decade of basic research and clinical trials, antiangiogenic inhibitors have failed to translate into improved patient outcome. The discovery of abnormalities in the tumour vasculature suggest that there may be alternate mechanisms driving tumour progression. Vasculogenic mimicry has been observed in glioblastoma and presents as a novel aspect of tumour biology, yet the mechanisms and functional relevance of these structures remain unknown. Our study has confirmed the ability of some glioblastoma cell lines to undergo endothelialisation, forming lattice structures similar to endothelial cells when seeded onto Matrigel in vitro. One lattice forming cell line, U87MG, was also found incorporate into the tumour vasculature in an in vivo orthotopic mouse model. This behaviour was found to be regulated by an expanded TGF-beta-ALK1-Smad1/5 signalling pathway. In vivo inhibition of the Smad1/5 signalling pathway via intracranial treatment with Ad-Smad6 resulted in reduced endothelialisation in the tumour vasculature and inhibited whole brain infiltration in the U87MG mouse model. Since U87MG xenograft tumours are non-invasive, these results suggest that endothelialisation may lead to haematogenous dissemination and distal brain infiltration, providing a novel mechanism for glioblastoma progression.
KeywordsGlioblastoma; GBM; Tumour Vasculature; Tumour Invasion; TGF-beta; Vasculogenic Mimicry; Stupp Protocol; Temozolomide; Mouse Models; Single Cell Detection; Systemic Brain Disease; Endothelialisation; Tumour Recurrence; Circulating Tumour Cells; ALK1; SMAD1/5; Treatment Stagnation; SEER; Hematogenous Dissemination
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