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Ground-breaking research technique to assess the aggressiveness of childhood brain tumours

Co-funded by us, Children with Cancer UK and Action Medical Research, the study from the University of Birmingham is the first of its kind.

It will allow clinicians to give more personalised treatments for childhood brain cancers, which currently account for one third of all childhood cancer deaths in the UK.

Researchers took biopsies of childhood brain tumours over five years to study their chemical make-up in high precision.

They found that the level of lipids and glutamine they contained were direct indicators of how aggressive a tumour would be.

The more glutamine a tumour contains, the less aggressive it is likely to be; the more lipids a tumour contains, the more aggressive it is likely to be.

The study also found a non-invasive technique can be used to measure these concentrations in higher precision than is currently being done in routine clinical practice.

Clinicians can simply put patients through an MRI scanner, then use a Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) to determine the levels of glutamine and lipids in the tumour.

Introducing this method across UK clinical practice will help increase the odds of children with brain tumours receiving treatment.

This non-invasive approach specifically benefits young patients with brain tumours in high-risk areas, such as the brain stem, who may not ordinarily undergo a biopsy due to the tumour’s sensitive location.

It will also enable clinicians to have a more accurate understanding of each tumour’s aggressiveness and to tailor treatments accordingly, so that they are only as toxic as they need to be.

Andrew Peet, research lead and Professor of Clinical Paediatric Oncology at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Children's Hospital, said: “This study is a huge step forwards towards the introduction of more personalised treatment for childhood brain tumour patients.

“Assessing how aggressive these tumours are at an earlier stage will help ensure that treatment is no more toxic than it needs to be, reducing the adverse effects on patients and improving their quality of life.”

Picture credit: University of Birmingham

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