Infants with Brain Cancer Could Benefit from Targeted Treatment

Brain cancer in infants can be successful treated with targeted drugs, according to the findings published in Cancer Discovery.

Babies and very young children, diagnosed when they are less than 12 months old, tend to have a better outcome – with around two thirds surviving five years or more. In the largest and most comprehensive study of infant gliomas to date, scientists found that these tumors are molecularly different from those in older children, helping explain why they tend to be less aggressive.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, carried out a large-scale study of 241 infants from around the world diagnosed with glioma brain tumours – working with colleagues at the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg in Germany, the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the US.

The researchers found that 130 of the 241 tumor samples – or 54 per cent – had an entirely different genetic make-up from other forms of childhood brain tumors, despite looking highly similar under the microscope.

“We found that glioma brain tumors in babies are biologically completely different to those in older children, even though under the microscope they look much the same,” Professor Chris Jones, Professor of Pediatric Brain Tumor Biology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London in a press release.

“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 tumors 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 in clinical trials as soon as possible.”