Three studies published in the journal Nature on Wednesday found that brain cancers will embed themselves into the brain’s electrical network and hijack signals from healthy neurons to fuel their own growth, according to NPR.
Dr. Frank WInkler, a neurologist at Heidelberg University in Germany and an author of one of the studies, said “they are like vampires” feeding on brain activity.
Two of the three studies look into high-grade gliomas, which include glioblastoma, the same cancer that killed Sen. John McCain in 2018.
Dr. Michelle Monje, an associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University and the author of a second study, found that high-grade gliomas grew faster when the brain cells around them were more active in 2015.
The new studies confirmed that high-grade gliomas cause healthy brain cells to become more active and produce more fuel by forming connections with healthy neurons and tapping into the electrical signals they produce.
Tumor cells “are integrating into neural circuits in the brain,” Monje said. “The cancer cells themselves are promoting the neuronal activity that then feeds back to drive the growth of the cancer.”
The discoveries found in the studies could lead to better treatments for high-grade gliomas, which typically kill patients within two years.
“Our hope is that by decreasing the electrical signals that the tumors are receiving from the normal brain, that we might be able to complement existing therapies and extend survival and improve quality of life,” Monje said.