The metabolic state of glioma stem cells, which give rise to deadly glioblastomas, is significantly different from that of the brain cancer cells to which they give birth, a factor which helps those stem cells avoid treatment and cause recurrence later.

Researchers with the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA and the Department of Radiation Oncology at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center also found for the first time that these glioma stem cells can change their metabolic state at will, from glycolysis, which uses glucose, to oxidative phosphorylation, which uses oxygen.

The glioma stem cells’ ability to change their metabolic state at will also allow these stem cells that seed new cancer growth to evade treatment and remain alive, said Dr. Frank Pajonk, an associate professor of radiation oncology and senior author of the study.

“We found these cancer stem cells are substantially different in their metabolic states than the differentiated cancer cells they create, and since they act differently, they can’t be killed in the same way,” Pajonk said. “And as yet, we don’t have anything to target these glioma stem cells specifically.”

The study is published this week in the early online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.