A glioblast is a type of stem cell capable of differentiating and maturing into several different forms of glial cell. These cells are located in the brain and are involved in the development of glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. Such cells can be identified by a pathologist on an examination of a sample of brain tissue, whether normal or cancerous, with the use of stains and other tools to collect information about the cells in the sample.
These cells arise as part of the neuroectoderm, an embryonic structure that splits off into the neural tube and neural crest. Together, these two structures make up the brain, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and several other key components of the body. Along the way, the neuroectoderm produces large numbers of pluripotent stem cells that can mature into a range of cell types to lay the groundwork for different parts of the body, from spinal cord cells to muscle tissues in the face.
Glioblasts mature into cells involved in the structural support of the brain. Glial cells, also called neuroglia, are non-neural cells that do not play a role in the brain and central nervous system. Instead, they form myelin and other components that insulate nerves and protect the brain from injury. These cells also respond to injuries in the brain. These traits are important, but are also what make the cells potentially dangerous.
Like other stem cells, the features of a glioblast can make it a prime tumor risk. The ability to replicate more than usual, necessary to keep the stem cell lines in the body functional, can also create an exploit for a single cancerous glioblast, which can quickly multiply unchecked in the brain. The differentiation seen with a glioblast is also an issue, as the cells may mutate quickly and a glioblastoma can contain several different mature cell types, which makes it harder to target effectively with therapy.
Researchers examine glioblast samples in culture to learn more about how the cells multiply and differentiate. This information can be key to the understanding of fetal development, responses to injury, and the formation of cancers in the brain and central nervous system. Samples of cancerous tumors can also be helpful, as researchers can look at the differences between these and healthy glial cells to see what went wrong and why. This can also help with the development of tools to prevent and treat cancers of the brain.