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New insight into medulloblastoma

The most common type of malignant childhood brain cancer has been identified as seven separate conditions each needing a different treatment, new research has revealed.

A study co-funded by The Brain Tumour Charity, Cancer Research UK and others at Newcastle and Northumbria universities has found that medulloblastoma can be separated into seven different subgroups which all have their own biological and clinical characteristics.

It is hoped that this finding, published today in The Lancet Oncology, will give young patients access to better treatment programmes tailored to their needs and new drug options in the future.

Up until now there had only been four recognised molecular subtypes. Experts say this new understanding could lead to increased survival rates as each responds differently to treatment so can be targeted individually.

It is anticipated this discovery will help personalise treatment so that young patients get the best care possible, tailored to the specific biology of their cancer.

Gentler therapies could be used for children with a good prognosis, while reserving the most intense treatments for those with high-risk tumours, as well as developing new treatments.

Steve Clifford, Professor of Molecular Paediatric Oncology at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre, Newcastle University, has led the research. He said, “Medulloblastoma is the most common type of malignant paediatric brain tumour and it is a devastating condition that causes approximately 10 percent of all childhood cancer deaths.

Our research has provided critical new insights into the cancer’s molecular basis and it is a significant step forwards in enhancing our understanding of this life-threatening disease.

This new discovery allows us to undertake studies to see how we could use these insights in diagnosis and to personalise treatments according to the biological features of each patient’s tumour.

Findings of the study will be used by the Newcastle University team, at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre, for further research into childhood medulloblastoma.

They are looking to develop international clinical trials which test whether implementing these findings can improve diagnosis, treatments and outcomes.

They also want to further understand the biology of each subgroup so that scientists can begin to target them with specific therapies.

Neil Dickson, Vice Chair of The Brain Tumour Charity, said, “These findings are extremely encouraging and will enable more accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for those affected by medulloblastoma.

This research was one of the first major projects made possible by our fundraising and investment as a charity.

We are delighted that the research we are funding at Newcastle is having a positive impact for children and families facing this traumatic diagnosis and treatment.