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Understanding the origins of medulloblastoma

Fast facts

  • Official title: Dissecting the origins of medulloblastoma subgroups
  • Lead researcher: Dr Laure Bihannic
  • Where: St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • When: September 2018 – August 2021
  • Cost: £180,000
  • Research type: Paediatric, Medulloblastoma (High Grade), Academic

What is it?

Future Leaders awards:

This was the first grant awarded through our Future Leaders funding. We want to increase the number of high quality researchers studying brain tumours, to do this we set up the future leaders scheme to encourage and develop early career scientists. When this three-year grant has finished Laure will have the opportunity to apply to us for more funding to continue her career growth. The final stage of funding would potentially bring Laure to the UK to start her own research group. To read more about this see our grant rounds page.

The research:

To properly model diseases in the lab we need to know how they start. With lots of different types of cells in the brain this can be challenging. When it comes to medulloblastoma there are at least four different types of tumour with different characteristics needing different treatments. The four subgroups are: WNT, SHH, Group 3 and Group 4.

We know what cells the WNT and SHH tumours grow from, but not the Group 3 and Group 4 medulloblastomas. This research aims to discover the ‘cell-of-origin’ for these elusive tumours and make accurate models to help study them better.

Laure will start by studying the development of the cerebellum – an area of the brain that controls coordination and balance, and is where medulloblastomas are commonly found. She will analyse the different cells in that region and find the ones that are most similar to cells in Group 3 and 4 medulloblastomas.

Once the cells are identified, Laure will work hard to grow them in the lab in a way that mimics the childhood disease.

One third of medulloblastoma patients are still incurable, and those that survive can suffer dramatic side effects due to current therapies, such as neurological disorders. This is still a big area that needs to be studied and a lot of improvement needs to be made.

Dr Laure Bihannic, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Why is it important?

Of the four medulloblastoma subtypes relatively little is known about Group 3 and Group 4. This is because we don’t know how or where the tumours start, and because we don’t have a good way of studying them in the lab.

In the medium term this research could be vital for other scientists to build upon. It could provide new models for the researchers to use in their studies and will help advance the field of medulloblastoma research.

If successful this research will shine a light on these mysterious tumours and make a step change to the study, and ultimately treatment, of these medulloblastomas.

Who will it help?   

Ultimately this research could help all children who are diagnosed with a Group 3 or Group 4 medulloblstoma. It could provide a stepping stone towards more effective, and kinder, treatments.

Such focused efforts are crucial to cure MB and enhance quality of life for patients and their families

Dr Laure Bihannic



  • Laure has identified 2 populations of cells which are believed to be the ‘cells of origin’ for Group 4 medulloblastomas. These are called glutamatergic cerebellar nuclei (GluCN) cells and unipolar brush cells (UBCs).
  • She has made lots of progress characterising GluCNs and UBCs and has identified similarities and differences in these cells compared to the normal, healthy brain cells. 


  • Further characterisation of GluCNs and UBCs to better understand how they can develop into Group 4 medulloblastomas.
  • Development of a preclinical model of Group 4 medulloblastoma using the newly identified GluCNs and UBCs. These models will then be used test potential new drugs for brain tumour patients which would hopefully improve treatment outcomes and reduce unwanted side effects.

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Research is the only way we will discover kinder, more effective treatments and, ultimately, stamp out brain tumours – for good! However, brain tumours are complex and research in to them takes a great deal of time and money.

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“I’ve always been interested in cancer research in general, especially the fact that cancer research can often be translated directly to the clinic. This was something that really drove me as a young scientist.” Dr Laure Bihannic