Could this discovery lead to new ways to treat childhood brain cancer?

23rd July 2021

Scientists supported by a collaboration between Worldwide Cancer Research and The Brain Tumour Charity have discovered how a specific genetic mutation, called H3K27M, causes diffuse midline glioma (DMG) – a childhood brain cancer also known as DIPG. Their discovery, based on lab research, shows that it is possible to reverse the effects of the mutation to slow cancer growth.

Diffuse midline glioma is a type of brain cancer that grows in a part of the brain known as the pons, located towards the place where the spinal cord enters the brain. Every year, 20 to 30 children are diagnosed with DMG in the UK and unfortunately no curative treatment is available.

Professor Adrian Bracken and his team at Trinity College Dublin have now pinpointed how the H3K27M mutation causes DMG, providing crucial new understanding of how this cancer works. They hope that these findings could be translated into a highly promising and targeted way to treat DMG in children, offering hope for improved therapies in the future.

The research was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Professor Adrian Bracken
We’ve taken a huge step forward in our study of DMG tumours and hope that the insights will help us design and implement precision oncology-based treatment approaches in DMG patients in the future. Crucially, ‘EZH2 inhibitor’ drugs have already received approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of two types of adult cancer. We propose these drugs could be impactful for children with DMG and, as a result, call for clinical trials to begin next.
Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive, Worldwide Cancer Research
Childhood brain cancers are one of the most devastating cancers. Professor Bracken’s work allows a look “under the bonnet” of this aggressive type of cancer and offers hope for children in the form of potential new targeted treatments. The exciting results from this project show not only what can be achieved by funding early stage discovery research, but also the importance of working together with other charities to fund research.

"We hope that our work – together with that of others focused in this area – will lead to curative clinical approaches for what is a truly terrible disease that can devastate families and for which there are currently no therapeutic options".

Professor Adrian Bracken

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