Stanford Study Finds Lung Cancer Cells Hide, Thrive in the Brain

October 27, 2023 11:41:32

Researchers from Stanford Medicine have found that lung cancer cells can spread to the brain and hide from the immune system by pretending to be “baby neurons.” After originating in the lungs, these cancer cells can metastasize into the brain and avoid detection by convincing neural cells that they’re juvenile neurons through the secretion of a certain chemical signal.

These cancer cells secrete a chemical message/signal that is ubiquitous during times of brain development, which attracts brain cells called astrocytes to the cells. This chemical signal encourages the astrocytes to secrete other chemical signals that protect the lung cancer cells and allow them to thrive, making it nigh impossible for the immune system to spot these cancer cells and strike them down. However, physicians may be able to slow down or even stop the proliferation of brain metastasis of small lung cancer cells by blocking this chemical signal and depriving lung cancer cells in the brain of optimal growth conditions.

With brain metastasis of small cell lung cancers currently accounting for around 10% to 15% of all forms of lung cancers, such a treatment would aid plenty of cancer patients across the country. Small-cell lung cancer metastasizes into the brain with such regularity that roughly 15% to 20% of people with the condition already have cancer cells in their brains by the time they are diagnosed.

Stanford Medicine professor of pediatrics and genetics Julien Sage, PhD, notes that small-cell lung cancers regularly spread to patients’ brains and thrive even though the environment conducive to tumor growth by enlisting astrocytes. Consequently, 40% to 50% of small-cell lung cancer patients manifest brain metastases as their condition advances.

Even though brain metastases often spell doom for many cancer patients, studying them is difficult because brain metastases biopsies have no positive impact on patient survival and are incredibly invasive. Since small-cell lung cancer is a neuroendocrine cancer that arises from cells that are similar to hormone-making cells and neurons, Sage posited that cancer cells may be able to thrive in the brain because they have neuron-linked proteins on their surfaces.

Sage believes interrupting the chemical signal lung cancer cells use to summon protective astrocytes could open the door to the development of brain metastases treatments, especially for cancers like small cell lung cancer that are notorious for spreading to the brain.

Plenty of research resources are being spent by other entities such as CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) to investigate promising drug candidates for treating various brain cancers. It is only a matter of time before options with superior clinical outcomes hit the shelves.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) are available in the company’s newsroom at

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