Last September, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that brain tumors have overtaken the much more common leukemia as the leading cause of death from pediatric cancer. Although progress has been made and the promise of more progress is on the horizon, the cure rate for childhood brain tumors lags behind a number of other pediatric cancers.
As pediatric neuro-oncologist Peter Manley, MD, of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center told Live Science, new research on cancer genomics “is so impressive that my feeling is that we will continue to see a decline in deaths.”
To mark Brain Tumor Awareness Month, Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Brain Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, will host a webchat on Monday, May 22 (3:30 p.m. ET). The live chat will highlight the latest research and treatments for pediatric brain tumors. Here’s a look back at some recent developments:
- Precision medicine — diagnosis and treatments keyed to the genetic susceptibilities of individual cancers — has advanced to the point where it can now impact the care of a majority of children with brain tumors, research from Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s suggests. In the largest clinical study to date of genetic abnormalities inpediatric brain tumors, researchers tested more than 200 tumor samples. They found that a majority had genetic irregularities that could influence how the disease was diagnosed and/or treated with approved drugs or agents being evaluated in clinical trials.
- Researchers reported promising early results of a clinical trial of a targeted therapy for pediatric low-grade gliomas using an FDA-approved drug for adult melanoma that targets the same so-called BRAF mutation. (The first childhood brain tumor patient treated with the drug is a New Hampshire girl with treatment-resistant metastatic brain tumors who is on another arm of the trial. She is now tumor-free.)
- Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) is perhaps the most devastating pediatric cancer. It is a virtually incurable cancer of the brainstem, centered in the area that controls involuntary actions such as breathing. The Mikey Czech Foundation, named for a young boy who died of the disease, recently donated $1 million to support the Kieran’s successful push for conducting biopsies of DIPG at diagnosis. The ability to finally biopsy these tumors has produced a wealth of new information about their biology.