Targeting the “Grow or Go” Arms of Pediatric Brain Tumors
Brain tumors are among the most prevalent forms of childhood cancers, accounting for nearly 20 per cent of all new cases. Medulloblastoma, the most common malignant primary childhood brain cancer, often leads to the spread of cancer cells to other tissues. Treating it is complex because there are four different types of medulloblastoma, and each has a unique genetic makeup and responds differently to current therapies.
The main treatments available today—chemotherapy and radiation—are very hard on young children’s developing brains. As Canada Research Chair in Neuro-Oncology and Human Stem Cells, Dr. Tamra Werbowetski-Ogilvie aims to find new treatments for each type of medulloblastoma by characterizing the cells that control growth in cancer stem cells, as well as in tumor cells that move or metastasize to other parts of the body.
Werbowetski-Ogilvie and her research team are identifying new ways to diagnose and treat these often-fatal cancers by shedding light on the importance of the proteins OTX2 and CD271/p75NTR in how medulloblastoma forms and progresses. They are also determining how these proteins function and testing whether agents that target them suppress the growth of human medulloblastomas implanted into mice. In addition, they are determining whether the presence of these proteins in tumors helps with diagnosis or with finding effective treatments.
By identifying the proteins that help the tumors “grow or go,” Werbowetski-Ogilvie’s findings will establish a cellular “fingerprint” that can be used to develop new therapies to kill the cancer cells (while sparing normal cells) and improve quality of life for children with the disease.