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Our Research

Keeping brain cancer survival rates high and children functional

This project has been completed

Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Taylor and his team used their TFRI-funded research to personalize medicine for children with the most common malignant brain tumour -- medulloblastoma.

“We used to think that all the brain cancers that look the same under the microscope had the same sort of behaviour and the same biology, but when we use new techniques from molecular biology to study them we see that they’re really very different,” said Dr. Taylor, noting that four different subtypes of medulloblastomas were identified in the project, which wrapped up in 2014.

The mortality rate for medulloblastoma is 30 to 40 per cent. Children that survive often experience negative side effects from surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – an issue that Dr. Taylor (based at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital) thinks could be avoided for some youth.

“When we talk to parents of children with the very good types of medulloblastoma, many of them feel they would be willing to risk a slightly increased chance of a [cancer] recurrence if they could have a large boost in [their child’s] IQ,” said Dr. Taylor, adding that prognosis differs depending on the medulloblastoma tumour subtype.

Researchers from more than 80 different cities around the world took part in MAGIC, noted Dr. Taylor, and more than 1,500 medulloblastoma tumour samples were collected for research purposes.

“We all came together to collaborate and co-operate, and figure out what’s wrong with these different kinds of tumours,” said Dr. Taylor. “We’re now developing a clinical trial where the children will receive less therapy than they did in the past in an effort to minimize the damage done to the developing child.”

The team also consulted with parents and neurosurgeons across Canada and around the world, ensuring they felt it was ethical to do a trial of this nature.

“Turning down the radiation, perhaps at the risk of increasing the recurrence rate, but to perhaps allow for a higher final IQ for the children that are involved, is a really rapid way to make a big difference in the lives of these children and their families,” said Dr. Taylor.

“We want to keep the survival rates high, and have those children be as functional possible.”