Location, Location, Where is the Cancer Located?

Pediatric brain tumors linked to stem cell activity in specific region

(RxWiki News) Scientists are beginning to realize that cancer tumors are as unique as the people in whose bodies they form. This reality was borne out in recent pediatric brain cancer research.

Stem cells in one area of the developing brain help fuel pediatric brain cancer that's caused by an inherited pediatric tumor disorder.

The same defect had no effect in stem cells from another area of the brain, researchers learned in an animal study.

"Keep your well-child appointments."

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis made the discovery while studying a tumor disorder seen in children - neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

"To improve therapy, we need to develop better ways to identify and group tumors based not just on the way they look under the microscope, but also on innate properties of their stem cell progenitors,” said David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology.

As background, NF1 is a quite common genetic disorder that occurs in one in every 3,000 babies born. The defect causes everything from attention and learning problems to brain tumors.

NF1-related brain tumors usually form in the optic (eyes) nerve and don't necessarily need to be treated. However, if these optic gliomas (tumors) keep growing, they can impact vision.

For this study, researchers compared the stem cells that are located in two different areas of the brain - the third ventricle and the nearby lateral ventricle.

The third ventricle in the midbrain is where optic nerves cross and tumors develop in youngsters with NF1.

“There are night-and-day differences between these two groups of stem cells,” said Dr. Gutmann.“These results show that stem cells are not the same everywhere in the brain, which has real consequences for human neurologic disease.”

Researchers disabled the NF1 gene, which is mutated in people with NF1, in the stem cells from both areas of the brain. They found the loss of NF1 in the third ventricle - where the optic nerves are - made the stem cells start multiplying, which could eventually lead to tumors. In the lateral ventricle, this loss had no impact.

More research is planned to fully explore other factors contributing to these events.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gutmann said, "Tumors are like us — they’re defined by where they live, what their families are like, the traumas they experience growing up and a variety of other factors."

"If we can better understand the interplay of these factors, we’ll be able to develop treatments that are much more likely to succeed, because they’ll target what is unique about a specific patient’s tumor,” said Dr. Gutmann, who is also the director of the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center.

The study appears July 9 in Cancer Cell.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and the Neuroscience Education Institute.

Review Date: 
July 9, 2012