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Identifying a specific subtype of brain tumour without surgery to improve children’s quality of life

Fast facts

  • Official title: Revolutionising treatment for WNT-medulloblastoma: A novel approach to diagnosis and cure
  • Lead researcher: Dr. Jessica Taylor
  • Where: University of Cambridge, UK
  • When: March 2023 – February 2026
  • Cost: £224,753 over three years
  • Research type: Animal models, Biomarkers, Diagnosis, Medulloblastoma, Neuro-surgery, Posterior Fossa Tumours, Quality of life, Radiotherapy, Treatment side effects
  • Award type: Future Leaders

Medulloblastoma is the most common family of high-grade brain tumours in children. Within this family researchers have identified four main subgroups. Now the only way to determine which type of medulloblastoma is by testing the tumour sample, this work hopes to avoid this step. Dr Taylor’s work will focus on one type of medulloblastoma: WNT-medulloblastoma. WNT-medulloblastomas are defined by mutations in a signalling pathway (chain of molecular reactions used by each cell to communicate a message) involving a molecule called WNT. She hopes to find a different way to identify WNT-medulloblastoma without surgery (or biopsy). WNT-medulloblastoma is highly curable with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the surgery needed for the diagnosis could have long-term side effects. For the surgeon WNT-medulloblastoma tumours are typically difficult to operate on. First, the tumour grows in an area of the brain quite difficult to access for the surgeon. Secondly, these tumours have an excess of blood vessels feeding the tumour, therefore there is an elevated risk of haemorrhage during surgery. Dr Taylor ‘s research could spare children the significant side effects of unnecessary surgery. Dr Taylor will also try to both treat and diagnose the tumour simultaneously, potentially without the standard chemotherapy after surgery. 

What is it?

Dr Taylor aims to use a novel strategy called ADCIPs (Antibody-Directed Cytotoxic and Imaging Probes (ADCIPs). This strategy relies on the use of antibodies (proteins which are designed to recognise and bind to another biological element) injected into the bloodstream. These antibodies will recognise specific proteins on the surface of WNT-medulloblastoma cells and bind to them. The antibodies will be designed so that when they bind to a target protein, they will be able to be seen with an imaging technique (PET scan).  

Moreover, Dr Taylor will design the antibodies so that they could be bound with drugs that would treat the WNT-medulloblastoma when the antibodies attach to it. The design of the antibodies will require Dr Taylor to first work with cells in a dish, then to use mouse models to test the antibodies

Why it’s important

By diagnosing tumours before surgery, Dr Taylor will avoid the severe long-term effects of an aggressive resection. Dr Taylor’s research could have a massive impact on patients with WNT-medulloblastoma. Around one in four children with this type of tumour who have surgery suffer from posterior fossa syndrome (PFS), also known as cerebellar mutism. This can cause long-term problems, such as memory problems, or speech issues. Combining diagnosis and therapy together with the strategy called ADCIPs would mitigate devastating post-surgical complications and specifically target drugs to the tumour. An effective targeted therapy without surgery would cure quickly WNT-medulloblastoma patients and without severe risk of consequences.  

Who it will help

This research project could have a significant impact on children with WNT-medulloblastoma and their families. It would eliminate the need for surgery to diagnose WNT-medulloblastoma, reducing the risk of associated long-term side effects. The ADCIPs strategy would give children a faster, safer, and more targeted treatment option. What’s more, if the ADCIPs strategy proves successful, it could be tested on several types of tumours, benefiting a broader population of cancer patients.  

My fundamental aim is to ultimately transform the lives of children with WNT-medulloblastoma, but also change the way we design treatments for brain cancer, focusing on long-term quality of life for every survivor

Dr Taylor

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Dr. Jessica Taylor

Dr Jessica Taylor is a distinguished researcher in the field of paediatric neuro-oncology. She is currently affiliated with the CRUK Cambridge Institute and the CRUK Children’s Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence at the University of Cambridge, UK. Dr Taylor’s work in the field of brain tumour research has resulted in her winning numerous awards for her achievements and potential.  

Dr Taylor has extensive knowledge of both adult and paediatric brain tumour biology and is highly skilled in preclinical neurosurgical techniques. Her focus is on changing the way we treat cancer, with a particular emphasis on children with WNT-medulloblastoma. Her ultimate career goal is to lead a programme of work that will enable children with this cancer to live a full life post-cancer.