Understanding the significance of medulloblastoma subtypes

Medulloblastoma is the most common high-grade brain tumour in children. Children surviving current treatment regimens often face severe long-term side-effects associated with conventional therapy, severely compromising quality of survival. Not all children experience the same response to current therapy and some 'subgroups' of patients can exhibit, either excellent or unfavourable outcomes, depending on the 'molecular' characteristics of their brain tumour. Medullobalstoma patient subgroups respond better or worse to current therapies than others. Such insights are urgently needed in order to improve the design of future clinical trials and improve survival rates for affected children.

Defining the molecular basis of treatment response

Medulloblastomas are divided into the following sub-groups based on different clinical and biological characteristics: WNT, SHH, Group 3 and Group 4. However, there are several clinical trials testing different treatment regimens for children with medulloblastomas that are either concluding or have recently concluded that were launched prior to the consensus of the above sub-groups. The outcomes of these trials cannot be interpreted without proper molecular annotations. The aim of Dr Northcott and his team is to assign molecular subgroups to all patients who took part in two clinical trials conducted by the Children's Oncology Group. This will allow the researchers to interpret treatment-related outcomes for each sub-group.

Improving clinical trials now

The outcomes from this research project will allow researchers to identify which sub-groups are more likely to benefit from therapy intensification, reduction, or targeted therapy. This will allow for more effective, risk-adapted treatments for patients with medulloblastoma, and working towards doubling survival rates and dramatically improving quality of life.

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