According to Medical Xpress, Chris Jones from the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK has delved into the complexities of the rare childhood brain tumors called diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas, or DIPG. While these gliomas are heartbreaking and research hasn’t led to any treatments for the condition yet, Jones may be putting his step forward in the right direction.
But What’s DIPG?
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, abbreviated DIPG, falls under the category of childhood brain stem gliomas. These gliomas are rare and occur in children. Characteristic of these conditions is the development of abnormal cells in the tissue of the brain stem. Although the severity of these many conditions depend on the individual type, DIPG is known for being quickly fatal. They’re also incredibly difficult to treat. To read more about DIPG and childhood brain stem glioma, click here.
What We’ve Learned About the Condition
“Almost all children with DIPG sadly die within a couple of years of diagnosis,” said Jones. Even more tough, “There aren’t any effective treatments.”
But what makes DIPG so difficult?
The prognosis for those children that get diagnosed with the condition is so devastating because the specific tumors begin in the brainstem. This is where the brain connects to the spinal cord, and therefore where a lot of crucial information is exchanged, including information vital for breathing and the keeping of a heart beat.
As a result, surgery is not possible for those young children with DIPG. Additionally, researchers and scientists have long figured out that medicine is essentially ineffective for brain tumors, due to a blood brain barrier that protects the disease.
“Radiotherapy is the only treatment that’s been shown to have any effect on DIPG,” Jones summarized.
However, not usually effective enough.
“Usually patients will be given a drug as well in an attempt to find something that works, but the cancer usually comes back within 6-9 months,” said Jones.
DIPG is also difficult by nature to research on. Due to the location and the age of tumors in patients, biopsy samples have been impossible to extract in the past. As a result, those who were researching the condition found little data to work with.
“DIPG is diagnosed by imaging, so questions were raised over the need for invasive and risky biopsies. That set back the collection of tissue for study,” Jones explained.
In 2012, however, a new advancement was made. Scientists found that they could safely extract biopsy samples through a safe and effective thin needle. This data, from those who have passed away and those who still live with the condition, has turned out to be incredibly helpful to scientists. In fact, this technique is the basis of Jones’ latest research.
Having realized that adult glioblastoma treatments are ineffective in DIPG patients, and realizing that the tumor spreads itself throughout the brain, Jones and his team set out to do some research.
They extracted information from the brains of those who have passed away of DIPG and those who were still currently living with it and compared them.
“We found that they were very different; some grew very fast while others didn’t, and some could spread extensively when others couldn’t,” Jones reported. “We think these different populations are cooperating, helping one another to grow or spread.”
Not only did Jones discover more about the difficult condition, but he also hopes to usher in new and effective ways to treat it.
“This work opens up a new way of thinking about how we may treat tumors,” he stated. “If we can better understand what these different populations of cells are doing, and how they’re interacting, maybe we can identify which ones are the key to go after with drugs.”
From Cancer Research UK funding, Jones is setting out to treat DIPG in children based on the biology of their individual condition. The study, according to Jones, is styled to be adaptive. Therefore, children in the trial could be receiving new treatments that could be added in or out throughout testing.
“New, targeted drugs are now starting to make their way into clinical trials for DIPG,” explained Jones. “We don’t yet know whether they’ll work, but ultimately we want to combine targeted drugs with other treatments, such as radiotherapy or immunotherapy.”
This type of treatment option seems to be setting the tone for the future of medical advancement. Even more exciting, “For the first time, these kinds of trials are now opening for DIPG,” Jones remarked.
To read more about this research and its future directions, click here.