Researcher on trail of new treatments for deadly childhood tumour

“We need better treatments for brain tumors,” says Dr. Nada Jabado, researcher at the Montreal Children's Hospital of the MUHC. “These tumors, including one particular type of brain tumour (pediatric glioblastoma or pGBM), have replaced leukemia as the leading cause of cancer death in children. At the moment, we know very little about it.”

While pGBM is not common – about one in 300,000 children will develop this disease – it is very serious. Treatment is not always successful, and usually involves brain surgery and radiation therapy – both potentially damaging to the patient.

International network created to analyze tumour samples

“We need to understand how this tumor occurs and progresses,” says Dr. Jabado. “Then we can try and stop the progression. To study pGBM, we have created an international network to collect and analyze tumor samples. We are looking for gene abnormalities and potential targets for new therapies.”

Institutions in this network include the NRC Biotechnology Research Institute in Montreal and Toronto’s Brain Tumor Research Center. Other network partners are located in Western Europe, Hungary, Poland and Mexico.

While this research is still in an early stage, it has already born fruit. Dr. Jabado and her colleagues have identified at least two distinct subsets of pGBM. Also, they have shown that pGBM and the adult form (aGBM) are genetically distinct. This is important because adult treatment is sometimes given to children, with poor results. “The pediatric tumour turns out to be completely different tumor from the adult one,” says Dr. Jabado. “Until quite recently, people didn’t understand this.”

The ultimate goal of Dr. Jabado’s research is to find an effective treatment for pGBM – but the quest could take as much as 10 years. “Developing novel therapies for this tumour will be a time-consuming process, “ she says. “The important thing is, we are on the way. Just two or three years ago, we weren’t. Now we are.”