My watch list


Protein content as a marker for response to therapy in brain cancer

Look into the future in fact seems possible

D. Paech/DKFZ

On the left the conventional morphological contrast enhanced imaging of a brain tumor with a clinical 3 Tesla MRT, on the right the protein measurement with the 7 Tesla MRT.

06-Mar-2019: Brain tumors vary widely in how they respond to treatment. However, early assessment of therapy response is essential in order to choose the best possible treatment for the patient. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) have now been able to show in a study using non-invasive high-resolution 7-Tesla MRI scans that the protein content of tumors correlates with response to treatment and survival.

Glioma is the most common type of brain tumor in adults. This non-neuronal type of tumor arises from glial cells – the cells that support and nourish neurons. The term "glioma" comprises a whole number of brain tumors that vary widely in grade. Some are benign and can be removed completely by surgery. In others, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy is necessary in addition to surgical removal.

In about half of all glioma patients, an extremely malignant form of the tumor is diagnosed. "Malignant gliomas respond very diversely to treatment," says Daniel Paech from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). "In some of the cases, postoperative radiotherapy and chemotherapy are more effective than in others. And whether the tumor has in fact responded to treatment cannot be told before the first follow-up care exam six weeks after treatment ends."

In order to choose the best possible treatment strategy for the patient right from the start, it would be advantageous to be able to assess a brain tumor's aggressiveness and future response to therapy already at the time of diagnosis.

In their present study, Paech and his colleagues from Heidelberg University Hospital have now shown that this look into the future, which is so critical for individual therapy planning for glioma patients, in fact seems possible. They used an extremely powerful 7-Tesla MRI scanner to image proteins in the brains of glioma patients. To do so, they exploited the so-called CEST effect, a chemical exchange effect between the proteins and free water in tissue. No contrast agents are needed for this examination.

Paech explains: "Cancer cells grow in an uncontrolled manner, producing proteins along the way in an equally uncontrolled manner. Our study shows that the protein signal measured in the MRI image is a biomarker that is associated with survival as well as with treatment response of patients: The stronger the protein signal, the poorer the prognosis."

If the MRI image at diagnosis shows that the tumor has a tendency to grow rapidly, it would be possible to choose, depending on other factors such as the patient's age, a more intensive therapy from the start in order to improve the patient's chances.

7-Tesla MRI machines of the type that was used for the present study are only available at a small number of research locations. Fewer than 100 of these scanners, which weigh 25 tons and cost over €10 million, are running worldwide. They generate a magnetic field with a strength of 7 Tesla. Conventional MRI scanners used in hospitals have a strength of 1.5 or 3 Tesla. Paech and his DKFZ colleagues from the groups led by Heinz-Peter Schlemmer, Mark Ladd and Peter Bachert are therefore already planning the next study. In a prospective study, they plan to examine in a larger patient group whether protein measurement is also possible using a less powerful MRI scanner. "If a 3-Tesla MRI machine can equally measure the elevated protein expression in the tumor, then our results may be used broadly to enhance diagnostics in glioma patients, because 3-Tesla machines are available in many hospitals," says Paech.

Original publication:
Daniel Paech et al.; "Relaxation-compensated amide proton transfer (APT) MRI signal intensity is associated with survival and progression in high-grade glioma patients"; European Radiology; 2019

Facts, background information, dossiers

  • proteins
  • gliomas
  • cancer
  • brain tumors
  • biomarker

More about Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum

  • News

    Potential pivot for a more effective cancer immunotherapy

    Scientists from the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens (Greece), the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine of the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital Dresden and the National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC), in collaboration with an inter ... more

    How dying cells prevent dangerous immune reactions

    Dying cells in the body can keep the immune system in check, thus preventing unwanted immune responses against the body's own tissues. Scientists of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) have now identified a receptor on immune cells that activates this ... more

    Cell death or cancer growth: a question of cohesion

    Activation of CD95, a receptor found on all cancer cells, triggers programmed cell death – or does the opposite, namely stimulates cancer cell growth. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) have now shown that the impact of CD95 activation depends on whether there are isol ... more

q&more – the networking platform for quality excellence in lab and process

The q&more concept is to increase the visibility of recent research and innovative solutions, and support the exchange of knowledge. In the broad spectrum of subjects covered, the focus is on achieving maximum quality in highly innovative sectors. As a modern knowledge platform, q&more offers market participants one-of-a-kind networking opportunities. Cutting-edge research is presented by authors of international repute. Attractively presented in a high-quality context, and published in German and English, the original articles introduce new concepts and highlight unconventional solution strategies.

> more about q&more

q&more is supported by:


Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE