Brain Tumor: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about brain tumors and how to treat them. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about brain tumors, ways to prevent them, how to best treat them, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with a brain tumor. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • Enhanced imaging tests. New techniques for imaging scans are being researched. These may help doctors better track how well treatment is working and watch for possible tumor recurrence or growth.

  • Biomarkers. Researchers are examining biomarker tests that may help diagnose a brain tumor, estimate a patient’s prognosis, and/or predict whether a specific treatment may work. As explained in Diagnosis, a biomarker is a substance found in your blood, urine, or body tissue. Biomarker tests give the doctor more information about the cancer.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy, uses the body's natural defenses to fight cancer by improving your immune system’s ability to attack cancer cells. Different methods are being studied for brain tumors, such as the use of dendritic cells or the use of vaccines aimed against a specific molecule on the surface of the tumor cells. Several methods are currently being tested in clinical trials.

  • Oncolytic virus therapy. This therapy uses a virus that infects and destroys tumor cells, sparing healthy brain cells. It is currently being researched as a treatment for brain tumors.

  • Targeted therapy. As outlined in Types of Treatment, this type of medication therapy targets faulty genes or proteins in the tumor that contribute to a tumor’s growth and development. Research continues on the use of different therapies for brain tumors that target the different ways a tumor grows, how a tumor spreads, and how tumor cells can be destroyed.

  • Blood-brain barrier disruption. This technique temporarily disrupts the brain’s natural protective barrier to allow chemotherapy to more easily enter the brain from the bloodstream.

  • New drugs and combinations of drugs. Researchers are looking at using drugs currently available for other types of cancer as treatment for a brain tumor. In addition, combinations of drugs that target the different ways a tumor grows and spreads are being explored. Since tumors can develop resistance to chemotherapy, meaning the treatment stops working over time, another approach is to use a treatment that targets how tumor cells develop resistance.

  • Gene therapy. This type of therapy seeks to replace or repair abnormal genes that are causing or helping tumor growth.

  • Genetic research. Researchers are seeking more information about specific gene mutations and how they relate to the risk and growth of a brain tumor. In particular, The Cancer Genome Atlas Program is a large, ongoing effort by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to find out more about the link between genetics and glioma. Recent results include the discovery of 3 specific genetic mutations not previously linked to glioblastoma: NF1, ERBB2, and PIK3R1. Other research is focused on how the MGMT gene and mutations of the IDH gene are linked to brain tumors. This information is useful to researchers and may eventually lead to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of glioma. Precision medicine approaches that target tumor-specific mutations are being explored.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current brain tumor treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in brain tumors, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that a brain tumor and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.