Predicting and Preventing Brain Tumors

By Nicole Calixtro


The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center strives to provide cutting-edge care for patients with brain tumors. At our clinic, we recognize the importance of early detection and prevention of brain tumors, and we are dedicated to advancing our knowledge and understanding of this disease. Prevention could make a big difference for brain cancer because it continues to evade effective treatment. 

This is why Kyle Walsh, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Pathology, Director of the Division of Neuro-epidemiology, and Senior Fellow in the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, studies the human genome to help advance the prevention and prediction of cancerous brain tumors. Let’s take a closer look at his research and what that means for the future of brain cancer prevention. 

Brain Cancer Prediction and Prevention Research 

As a genetic epidemiologist, Walsh explains, “I look for genetic factors at a population level that increases the risk of disease or health problems.” He compares the entire genetic code of thousands of people with brain tumors to thousands of people without. Looking at the genome of such a large group of people increases the chances of picking up genetic variants associated with an increased risk for brain cancer.

 “Doing that, we’ve identified 17 different inherited genetic variants that are common at a population level that modestly increase the risk of developing glioblastoma,” he says. Still, much remains undiscovered about genetic risk. Some or all of these 17 common variants are present in only a minority of brain cancer patients. Walsh also looks for sporadic mutations, which he does by deep diving into the genes of families with multiple occurrences of brain cancer.

In addition to his prediction and prevention research, Walsh also studies the biology of cancer in his lab to identify vulnerabilities in cancer cells that could be targeted with pharmaceutical treatment. For example, cancer cells maintain long telomeres and protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that can stave off cell death. Long telomeres are a good thing when attached to healthy cells, but cancer uses them to its advantage. 

“Tumor cells are cells that have forgotten how to die,” Walsh says. A mutation in a gene called TERT supports this continued telomere growth. Walsh is working on a drug that causes the long telomeres on cancer cells to shatter, reducing the longevity of the cancer cells. Furthermore, the mess that destroyed telomeres brings immune cells to the area to clean up.

 Once there, the hope is that the immune cells will attack the cancer cells. About 80 percent of glioblastoma patients have a TERT mutation, so if this treatment proves effective, it could be used with many patients.

Top Brain Tumor Center 

As a researcher, Walsh relishes being on the faculty of the Department of Neurosurgery and being embedded in a clinical team. “I like collaborating with neuro-oncologists and neurosurgeons,” he says. “They are brilliant, collaborative, and excited about this idea of risk prediction and prevention.”

 Being part of a clinical team also gives meaning to his lab work. “It keeps you grounded in who you are trying to serve and help,” he says. “The patients.” Our team of leading experts at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center are committed to the research and treatment of brain tumors using the latest technology and research to provide the most effective treatment options available. 

We understand the impact that brain tumors have on patients and their families and are here to support and guide you through every step of the journey. From providing treatment to primary brain tumors and more, we strive to make our patient’s comfort and care our number one priority. 

Click here to schedule a consultation at our Durham, NC clinic if you have been diagnosed with a brain tumor, if you feel you are at risk of developing a brain tumor because of family history, or if you are noticing signs of brain cancer.  If you would like to learn about the common symptoms of a brain tumor head on over to the following articles, What are The Red Flags For Brain Tumors? and Everything You Need To Know About Brain Cancer.