Harald Sontheimer’s article featured in Nature’s ‘News and Views’

Harald Sontheimer, Ph.D.

Harald Sontheimer, Ph.D.

Harald Sontheimer, director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s Glial Biology in Health, Disease, and Cancer Center, wrote a “News and Views” article for the December 3 issue of Nature.

The article, titled, “Tumour cells on neighbourhood watch,” focused on a research paper from Germany, published in the same issue of Nature. The study found that brain tumor cells interconnect to form a functional and resistant network. The work has big reveals how primary brain cancers can spread and how they can resist treatment, according to Sontheimer’s article.

“Gliomas have long frustrated surgeons, because cancerous cells invade the surrounding brain before diagnosis is possible, making surgical removal of these tumours inefficient,” Sontheimer wrote in the article.

Researchers found that cancerous tissue grew microtubes, which invaded healthy cells and connected the unhealthy cells together. This allows the cancer cells to resist treatment, such as radiation, and to quickly replace cells that are killed off by treatment with more cancerous tissue. The scientists also found that cell signaling regulated by a protein called connexin 43 aided in the formation of the microtubes, but that another protein called GAP-43 might actually be responsible for organizing the microtubes into an organized collection.

Sontheimer highlighted recent work from Robert Gourdie and Zhi Sheng, both researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Their study demonstrated the effectiveness of peptide designed to bind connexin 43 in helping resensitize drug-resistant brain cancer cells to treatment.

This combination of discoveries could lead to more effective strategies to treat primary brain cancers.