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QIMR finds new target for brain cancer treatment

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have identified a new target for treating aggressive brain tumours.

Professor Andrew Boyd and Dr Bryan Day have shown that a particular protein – EphA3 – is found in up to half the cases of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), and particularly in the most aggressive cases. They have shown that EphA3 is required for GBM cells to grow and form tumours.

“Most significantly, this protein is something we can directly target with a treatment we’ve already developed, which is now in clinical trial for use in leukaemia,” Dr Day said.

“It is early days, but we know cells which express the protein EphA3 can be eradicated in the laboratory with this treatment, so it’s very encouraging in terms of developing a new treatment for brain cancer.

“My dream would be a clinical trial for its use in brain tumours in the next few years.”

GBM is the most common primary adult brain cancer, and is nearly always fatal. It kills about 1000 Australians every year, most within two years of diagnosis.

Professor Andrew Boyd first discovered the protein EphA3 in leukaemia cells in 1992.

Its presence in the brain tumour cells which are critical for cancer formation may explain why this cancer usually recurs despite chemotherapy or radiation.

“New treatments for this aggressive type of brain cancer are an urgent clinical challenge,” Professor Boyd said.

“Defining a new target, and knowing we have created an antibody that might beat it, is an exciting finding.

“Despite the best efforts of medical researchers, survival rates for GBM have barely changed in 50 years,” Professor Boyd said.

This research is published in the prestigious journal Cancer Cell and can be found online at

Professor Boyd and Dr Day’s research is funded by the NHMRC, the Leukaemia Foundation of Queensland and the RBWH Private Practice Fund.