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Babies With Brain Tumours Could Benefit From Targeted Treatment

Updated: Apr 4, 2021

A collaborative study published by Professor Chris Jon es and Dr Matthew Clarke has been highlighted as one of The Institute of Cancer Research’s outstanding research achievements of 2020. Professor Jones and Dr Clarke are both members of the ICR’s Glioma Team – which has been supported for many years by The Rudy A Menon Foundation.

The study detailed how brain cancer in babies is biologically distinct from other childhood brain tumours and could potentially be successfully treated with targeted drugs. The genetic make-up of tumours from 241 infants diagnosed with glioma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, were analysed. It was found that 54 per cent of tumour samples had an entirely different genetic make-up than other forms of childhood brain tumours.

Over half of children had specific molecular weaknesses – including ALK and NTRK gene fusions, which can be targeted with existing precision medicines. The new results could help pick out babies with brain tumours who could be spared chemotherapy – which can have devastating side-effects and be particularly harmful while their brain is still developing.

Professor Chris Jones, Professor of Paediatric Brain Tumour Biology at the ICR said:

“We found that glioma brain tumours in babies are biologically completely different to those in older children, even though under the microscope they look much the same. Our study offers the biological evidence to pick out those infants who are likely to have a better outcome from their disease, so these very small children and their families can be spared the harmful effects of chemotherapy. We showed that brain tumours in infants have particular genetic weaknesses that could be targeted with existing drugs – and clinical trials are planned to test the benefit of these precision medicines as a first-line treatment as soon as possible.”

Dr Matthew Clarke, Clinical Research Fellow in the Glioma Team at the ICR said:

“Brain tumours that arise in the very youngest children tend to have better outcomes from those in older children – and our new study explains that difference on a biological level. Chemotherapy is currently a good treatment option for babies with brain tumours – but our study has found that some children could be spared this treatment. With further testing, I’m hopeful that existing targeted drugs could expand our arsenal of options to treat these smallest of patients.”

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