Media Releases

U of T researchers offer hope for children with previously incurable brain cancer

April 7, 2014

TORONTO, ON – Researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Depart­ment of Lab­o­ra­to­ry Med­i­cine and Patho­bi­ol­o­gy (LMP) have defined poten­tial treat­ment tar­gets for a pre­vi­ous­ly incur­able form of pedi­atric brain can­cer called Dif­fuse Intrin­sic Pon­tine Glioma (DIPG).

In ground­break­ing research pub­lished in Nature Genet­ics, Dr. Cyn­thia Hawkins, a pro­fes­sor at LMP and Neu­ropathol­o­gist and Sci­en­tist at The Hos­pi­tal for Sick Chil­dren, along with PhD can­di­dates Pawel Buczkow­icz and Patri­cia Rakopou­los, iden­ti­fied three sub­groups of DIPG, each hav­ing dis­tinct mol­e­c­u­lar fea­tures.

“In the past, DIPGs were con­sid­ered one dis­ease and were assumed to be sim­i­lar to adult brain tumours. For this rea­son, the treat­ments that were giv­en to adults were also giv­en to children—but these treat­ments were inef­fec­tive,” said lead author Buczkow­icz. By study­ing the dif­fer­ences between these tumours, the team can now inves­ti­gate poten­tial treat­ments and pro­vide hope for future patients.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, doc­tors used MRI or CT scans to diag­nose and study DIPGs, but the infor­ma­tion obtained was lim­it­ed. In addi­tion, it was dif­fi­cult to study these tumours because they were rarely biop­sied and tis­sue sam­ples were rare. Hawkins began an autop­sy-based study to gain a com­pre­hen­sive per­spec­tive of the dis­ease, an approach that has paid div­i­dends.

DIPGs are most com­mon­ly diag­nosed in chil­dren between the ages of 5 and 9 and account for 10 to 15 per­cent of all pedi­atric cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem tumours. For over 25 years, chil­dren diag­nosed with this incur­able brain­stem tumour have had few treat­ment options since the can­cer cells are inti­mate­ly inter­min­gled with nor­mal brain cells. These tumours are inop­er­a­ble, cur­rent chemother­a­py is inef­fec­tive and focal radi­a­tion only pro­vides tem­po­rary treat­ment.

As Hawkins point­ed out, “We’re hop­ing that by hav­ing a bet­ter genet­ic char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of these can­cers we can try to bet­ter tar­get these tumours and pro­vide a per­son­al­ized approach to treat­ment. The ide­al is always that we’re going to find some­thing that will zap all of the tumour cells and we’re going to find a cure. But prob­a­bly a more real­is­tic inter­im goal is that we can at least slow it down.”

Phase I clin­i­cal tri­als for DIPG could poten­tial­ly begin with­in a year.


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:
Katie Bab­cock
Web and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Coor­di­na­tor
The Depart­ment of Lab­o­ra­to­ry Med­i­cine and Patho­bi­ol­o­gy (LMP), Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–278-6568