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Start of international research on medulloblastoma

Finding new treatments for medulloblastoma. This is the goal of a group of international researchers who are joining forces. In the lab, they will mimic the tumor development in the brain, among other things. From the Prinses Máxima Center, Prof. Dr. Marcel Kool is involved in the research that is starting thanks to The Brain Tumour Charity.

Each year, about 180 children in the Netherlands are diagnosed with a brain tumor. About 20 children are diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a rapidly growing tumor in the cerebellum. The probability of cure varies and depends on the subtype and any metastases present. One in four children experience long-term memory loss and speech problems after healing from surgery. It is therefore of great importance to find new treatments with fewer side effects.

The origin of medulloblastomas

A medulloblastoma results from a developmental error in one of the precursor cells of the cerebellum. Presumably, something is damaged in the cell's DNA even before a child is born. What causes this to happen is not known. Therefore, scientists want to better understand how the area in the brain where medulloblastomas origin develops. They are also investigating which processes drive tumor development. And what changes can be seen in the DNA of cells during brain development and tumor emergence.

Prof. Dr. Marcel Kool, research group leader and co-project leader together with Prof. Dr. Esther Becker of Oxford University: 'It is essential to find answers to the questions we still have about medulloblastomas. By getting as complete a picture as possible of the origin and development of the tumor, we can specifically look for new treatments.'

Innovative tumor models

The new knowledge about the origin of medulloblastomas is being used to develop innovative tumor models. Kool: ‘Using medulloblastoma tumor cells from children who have been or are being treated at the Máxima Center, we grow organoids, a kind of 3D mini-tumors, in the lab. We also use specific stem cells to grow different brain cells in healthy organoids. With innovative technologies, we genetically modify the cells to allow them to grow into medulloblastomas. In this way, we mimic tumor development in the brain in the lab. We use the models to better understand medulloblastoma development and learn where we might be able to intervene with drugs.'

The tumor models are also used to test drugs on. 'By adding drugs or specific combinations of drugs to the models, we can see in a situation as real as possible whether a drug has an effect on the tumor but not on the healthy brain cells. If this is the case this will be investigated further in clinical studies, among other things. This brings us another step closer to finding new, better treatments for children with this form of cancer. After all, we not only want to cure more children but also give them a better quality of life.'

Best researchers

The Quest for Cures grants from The Brain Tumour Charity aims to bring together the best researchers in their field to join forces. This project has been awarded £1.5 million over five years. Researchers from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States and the Netherlands are participating in the project.