Researchers at UCLA say they may have made a breakthrough in the battle against one of the hardest-to-treat forms of cancer.

Glioblastomas are terminal brain tumors with few treatment options and poor timelines for those unlucky enough to be diagnosed with them.

Researchers at UCLA say they’ve identified a genetic alteration that occurs in 60% of those diagnosed with glioblastoma, and that genetic abnormality could be crucial in developing new effective treatments against the stubborn and aggressive cancer.

“The mutation causes changes in the way lipids are distributed in cancer cells, which in turn makes the cancer cells vulnerable to being destroyed,” UCLA officials said in a release. The discovery could lead to a pathway to developing new treatment options.

David Nathanson was one of the senior authors on the study. He’s an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center. 

He says every patient’s tumor is different and can have a unique combination of genetic differences, but understanding how genetic alterations affect the growth and metabolism of the tumors is critical to identifying future treatment options.

Scientists believe that disrupting the way cancer cells process energy and nutrients to grow and survive could be one piece to the treatment puzzle.

Glioblastoma has claimed the lives of several notable political figures, including former senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy, as well as President Joe Biden’s son, Beau. “Gilmore Girls” actor Edward Herrmann, Tim Conway of “The Carol Burnett Show,” and boy band The Wanted’s Tom Parker also died from the deadly disease.

The average life expectancy after diagnosis is less than two years, and the five-year survival rate is less than 5%.

Because of the brain’s natural defenses, treating glioblastoma is incredibly difficult. The need for new and effective treatment options is critical, Nathanson said.

Steven Bensinger, a co-senior author of the study, said this possible breakthrough could also shed light on how diet and other lifestyle factors could affect the cancer’s progression and how patients respond to therapy.

The genetic alteration that 60% of glio patients all have may be able to be exploited by prescribing a diet that feeds the cancer the “wrong” nutrients, making the tumors more vulnerable to therapy or even reducing tumor growth.

Results of the study, and the database of samples that were tested as part of it, have been shared across the globe, and the database has since expanded. Researchers hope that the growing database will help them find “additional relationships between cancer-fighting genes” and the nutrients that feed them.

The results of the full UCLA study can be found here.

Although promising, any new treatment options would be years, if not decades, away from market, but the research is critical in ensuring one day there will be more options for treating one of the world’s most devastating cancers.