National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) researchers identified a protein that provokes the aggression of brain tumours.
  • ST3Gal1 gene indicates an aggressively spreading tumour in the patient's brain
  • Finding can help doctors diagnose their patients, and in turn determine the best therapy, as it is more accurate than existing methods
Looking under the microscope is a common way to diagnose tumours and subsequently, act as a basis to determine the therapy needed and predict the outcome. However, tumours that look similar may behave differently.
This is where the discovery led by NNI scientists, Associate Professor Ang Beng Ti, Head and Senior Consultant of Department of Neurosurgery and Dr Carol Tang, Senior Research Scientist, come in.
Their research team has developed a molecular signature that indicates that the patient has the ST3Gal1 gene – a gene that provokes the aggressive spreading of tumour cells in the brain.
Such method of diagnosis by looking at the molecular pattern of the patient’s tumour is known as precision medicine – as it can predict patient outcomes better than traditional indicators such as age, tumour grade and patient’s functional status. "The focus is no longer on how tumours look under the microscope," said Prof Ang.
The team, which includes members from Duke-NUS Medical School, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, A*STAR, did this using mice models in the lab - they implanted tumour cell in the brains of mice. Once in, the tumour retained its original molecular signature, but grew even faster and was much more accessible for study than in humans. The team is the first in the world to employ this cutting-edge technique.

By knowing the specific type of tumour the patient has, clinicians can then choose the type of chemotherapy better. This in turn spares patients from side effects and financial costs if there molecular information indicates poor response to existing treatments. However, it may take years, until "precision" drugs is found and certified for ST3Gal1.
Says Dr Tang and Dr Ang, This finding is significant because it introduces a novel paradigm in treatment decision and patient care; that is, we should not be relying on tumour characteristics seen under the microscope to guide therapy; rather, we need to establish molecular grouping approaches to more accurately target the group of patients susceptible to a specific chemotherapy.”
This study was published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute.