Researchers have discovered why a curable type of children’s brain tumor is so responsive to chemotherapy. This discovery will pave the way to improve treatment of tumors that are hirder to tackle.
This research was funded by ALSAC and the National Cancer Institute and carried out at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
This study shows that a curable type of brain tumor in children, WNT medulloblastoma, grows leaky blood vessels that allow much higher than normal levels of chemotherapy drugs to reach the cancer cells.
Healthy blood vessels in the brain are able to filter potentially damaging molecules and prevent them from reaching brain tissue. However, this filtration system can also restrict drugs from reaching tumor cells in the brain.
Conversely, in a tumor with leaky blood vessels, like certain types of medulloblastoma, these molecules cannot be kept out.
Understanding why curable tumors are easier to treat could help find more effective treatments for less curable types of medulloblastoma. Researchers believe they may be able to turn this barrier off and make the tumors more responsive to chemotherapy.
This finding is exciting because it means that as well as finding kinder treatments for a curable type of brain cancer, researchers may also be able to manipulate brain tumors that are difficult to treat successfully to make them more responsive to treatment.
This could make chemotherapy even more effective and reduce the amount of radiation that is given to children. In turn this means fewer long term side effects for children later in life which researchers are always working towards.
Although cancer survival overall has doubled over the past 40 years, treatments for brain tumors have seen much slower progress. Unfortunately, brain tumors in children remain a major challenge.
More research is necessary to help researchers find ways to diagnose and treat the disease earlier and develop more effective treatments that have less of the long term side effects that can have a major impact throughout a child’s adult life.