Thanks to a study led by an investigator at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital, UK, moving forward, children with cancer could be sparred unnecessarily aggressive treatments now that a new scan is available. This scan can predict how rapidly a tumor will grow reports the study doctors. Heralded as a major advance toward more individualized treatments for brain cancer patients, the hope is that survival rates will improve as well.
A Move toward more Precise Care for Children with Brain Cancer
Survival rates have grown for childhood brain tumor patients, with 75% of patients living beyond four years. However, accurately predicting how the disease will advance in specific patients remains a challenge that must be overcome. With children representing the most vulnerable patients, the need for a specified, tailored, and individualized approach is of paramount importance—children can be the most vulnerable to the side-effects of radiation and toxic drugs. Currently, in the UK, childhood brain cancers account for 33% of the total.
The UK-based team tracked 114 cancer patients at the hospital for over five years—they took biopsies of childhood brain tumors from the patients. At the end of the study, 79 children, all battling brain cancer, were still living while 35 had died. The study team’s analysis uncovered that various elements (such as levels of fats and another chemical called glutamine) represented direct indicators of how aggressive the tumor would grow. For example, after the study the investigators could declare that the more glutamine a tumor contains, the less aggressive it is likely to be; or the more lipids a tumor contains, the more aggressive it will grow.
The team also found that an MRI scan, when designed to identify chemical signatures of the tumor, could be employed to measure the concentrations of glutamine and lipids accurately. The study team reported that with refinements inability to assess, measure, and predict, will come better treatment for children.
Professor Andrew Peet, a pediatric oncologist at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital, reported: “This is a huge step forward towards the introduction of more personalized treatment for childhood brain tumor patients.” He continued, “Assessing how aggressive these tumors are at an earlier stage will ensure that treatment is no more toxic than it needs to be, reducing the adverse effects on patients and improving their quality of life.”
Professor Andrew Peet, a pediatric oncologist at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital