New Research Program Focuses on Omics to Better Understand Brain Tumors

By Carol Harbers

A research program established recently at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke will characterize and analyze the interrelated “omics” fields (genomics, transcriptomics, epigenetics, proteomics, and metabolomics) to better understand brain tumor development and progression.

“Primary malignant brain tumors have been a laser focus of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center since its inception over 85 years ago,” said David Ashley, MBBS, FRACP, PhD director of the Brain Tumor Center. “Glioblastoma is the most common and most malignant primary brain tumor in adults, and cures are elusive. To tackle this we are  making a major investment in a first-of-its-kind program employing the latest technologies through the Brain Tumor Omics Program.”

The Brain Tumor Omics Program (BTOP) addresses the issue of the complex environment in which brain tumors exist and the diverse cell populations that contribute to their development.

“Brain tumors contain a mixture of different cells that drive tumor development or influence therapy response. By breaking the tumor down to its component cells and then independently assembling them, we have a much clearer idea of the pathways associated with cancer progression and response,” said Simon Gregory, PhD, director of the BTOP and faculty member in the Duke Department of Neurosurgery.

To profile brain tumors, BTOP will use data from traditional bulk approaches and employ emerging technologies such as single cell and spatial transcriptome profiling. These new technologies present an opportunity to understand the microenvironment of brain tumors at unprecedented resolution.

“The new spatial approaches for tumor characterization will allow us to understand the context of these dysregulated cellular pathways within specific niches of the tumor. These approaches may also chart the future of diagnostic pathology,” said Gregory.

The program is positioned to take advantage of interdisciplinary research happening not only within the Brain Tumor Center but across Duke University. “It will also give us the opportunity to recruit new faculty who recognize the power of analyzing multiple datasets to understand cancer development,” said Gregory.