Are Better Targeted Treatments Possible in Children’s Brain Cancer?
According to a recent article, MEK Inhibitors Reverse Growth of Embryonal Brain Tumors Derived from Oligoneural Precursor Cells, in the journal Cell Reports, researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah have identified an existing group of drugs that appear to reduce or eliminate a particular subgroup of childhood brain cancers while sparing normal brain tissue.
Childhood Brain Cancer affects thousands of children globally every year, and it kills more children than any other cancer. Malignant brain tumours grow rapidly and are likely to spread into other areas of the brain very quickly. Although brain tumours in children are the second most common form of childhood cancer, it is still unknown what the cause of most childhood brain cancers is.
The research was conducted using a new zebrafish animal model system developed by the researchers, which closely resembles an aggressive subtype of paediatric brain tumours.
Rodney Stewart, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences at the University of Utah and an HCI investigator, explains:
“For many paediatric brain tumours no cell or animal model exist to test targeted, or personalized, medications that could significantly improve survival and alleviate the harmful side effects of conventional therapies. Indeed, children with rare brain tumours have few options for life-saving treatment. Our hope is by creating this animal model we will be a step closer to finding effective therapies.”
The research was conducted using a new zebrafish animal model system developed by the researchers, which closely resembles an aggressive subtype of paediatric brain tumour known as primitive neuroectodermal tumours of the central nervous system (CNS-PNET) for which few animal or cell line models exist, and without which treatments could not be tested.
The model that was used, which, at the genomic level, closely modelled the human condition they hoped to study, was painstakingly developed over the course of seven years by Stewart and his team.
“We spent a lot of time comparing brain tumours arising in fish with related human brain cancers at the molecular genetic level,” Stewart says. “This is important because these childhood brain cancers are rare and as a result, there are few patient samples to study for comparisons.”
Human tissue samples were necessary, however, in order to construct a reliable model. “We needed to reach out to several groups,” he explains, including Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Dr. Stewart credits discoveries announced by two other groups studying similar cancers that opened the way for his group to move forward. “They were able to re-classify CNS-PNET tumours into distinct subgroups at the molecular level. That opened up a new avenue for our team because that stratification made it possible for us to really nail down what the zebrafish brain tumour model represents.”
“When we treated the fish with MEK inhibitors – drugs that inhibit an enzyme – they exhibited a remarkable response,” says Stewart. “Not only was the tumour burden reduced, it completely eliminated the tumour in about 80% of the fish and those tumours have not come back. This is a durable response from a transient treatment. It’s what we look for in cancer therapy, an effective drug that can be taken for a certain amount of time but, after the cancer is gone, patients can stop taking the drug and go on living their lives.”
Stewart went on to emphasise that although the brains of fish and humans are similar, more studies are required before it can be confirmed that the treatment can be used to effectively treat childhood brain cancer.
Posted on 8 November, 2016, in Brain Cancer, Research and tagged brain cancer, brain cancer awareness, cancer research, Child Cancer Awareness, childhood brain cancer, Childhood Cancer Awareness, Children with Cancer, MEK inhibitors. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.