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Genetic variety in medulloblastoma uncovered

Credit: Nature

Medulloblastoma is the most common paediatric brain cancer, yet targeted therapies are scarce and knowledge of specific subgroups of the tumour was previously low. These treatment options also often lead to debilitating effects, particularly in children, such as lower IQ and developmental issues.

Medulloblastoma is categorised into four distinct subtypes (WNT, SHH, Group 3 and Group 4), all of which behave and respond to treatment options differently. Group 3 tumours have the worst prognosis, whereas WNT tumours often respond relatively well to existing therapies.

This study, published in Nature, analysed almost 500 medulloblastoma tumours and more than 1,300 epigenetically analysed samples to identify genetic differences that were to blame for the formation of the tumours. Increased knowledge of these faulty genes that cause these tumours to form means that previously unknown, actionable targets for potentially effective drugs have now been documented.

In an interview with Science Daily, Peter Lichter from the institute commented “While we could previously explain only 30 per cent of tumours in these groups… we have now reached 80 per cent.” This greatly enhanced knowledge will assist with the development of more effective, personalised therapies for medulloblastoma patients in the future, while it could also help to limit the negative side effects that these patients commonly experience. 

In the past couple of years there has been a concerted global effort to understand more about these tumours and develop more effective therapies. In our 2014 grant round, Cure Brain Cancer Foundation funded two projects that studied medulloblastoma. One looked at increasing understanding of the SHH tumour variant, while the second aimed to develop novel strategies to kill the tumours without damaging the surrounding healthy cells.

You can read the whole journal article from Nature here.

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