Half a million euros for research on removing radioresistant cells before radiotherapy

MaastroLab researcher Kasper Rouschop has received a research grant from the Dutch Cancer Society. He will be working closely with the fellow recipient of the €500,000 grant, Prof. Brad Wouters of the University of Toronto (Canada), on very aggressive brain tumours. Together they will do further research to investigate whether radioresistant cells can be made sensitive to chloroquine, so that they can be removed before the tumour is irradiated.


A lack of oxygen

Their research follows on closely from earlier work by MaastroLab. In previous research, scientists examined ways of treating tumour cells that are relatively insensitive to radiation. “Tumours often grow extremely quickly,” says Kasper Rouschop. “This leads to some cancer cells in the tumour receiving too little oxygen. The cells that receive too little oxygen become resistant to radiation as a result and this can lead to tumour regrowth following treatment. These cells adapt in order to survive the lack of oxygen. They partly break themselves down and recycle the degraded material in a process called autophagy. Chloroquine is an old anti-malaria drug that also inhibits autophagy. By inhibiting autophagy and removing the cells’ survival mechanism, researchers will test whether this leads to a reduction in the number of radioresistant cells in tumours.”


Getting rid of cells

The new research continues this work. “By gaining an even better understanding of this mechanism, we can search for a more effective form of therapy for these malignant brain tumours. We are now going to look at how we can sensitise more cells to chloroquine. This would mean that more cells could be removed prior to radiotherapy. The expectation would then be that the tumour that still needed to be irradiated would respond better to the therapy.”