Grants - Translational Grants - 2017

Michael Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., FRCS

Funded in partnership with WWE in honor of Connor’s Cure

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumor in children. Medulloblastoma is really made up of four diseases, of which two types: Group 3 and Group 4 account for the majority of cases. The main tumor ‘lump’ in the brain is called the ‘primary tumor’. The primary tumor can spread (metastasize) to cover other regions of the surface of the brain and spinal cord. Most children who die from medulloblastoma die because the tumor has spread (metastasized) and not due to the primary tumor. The most damaging therapies (radiation) for children with Group 3 and Group 4 medulloblastoma are necessary to treat the metastases.

For the most part, medulloblastoma only spreads to the surface of the brain and spinal cord, and not to other organs. According to the textbooks this occurs when cells drop off the primary tumor, float around in the spinal fluid, and then reattach to the brain or spinal cord and start growing again. There really is no evidence or experiments to support this mechanism, just historical speculation. We have now shown that in fact, medulloblastoma spreads through the blood stream—the cells enter the blood stream, and then home back to the brain and spinal cord where they grow and kill the child.

This new understanding of the metastatic process for medulloblastoma offers fresh opportunities to non-invasively diagnose medulloblastoma in the blood, to prevent the metastatic cascade, prevent the progression of metastases, and decrease the toxicity of therapy for children with medulloblastoma.