The pilot study is the first to demonstrate that medulloblastoma samples can be rapidly delivered to a central research institution and analyzed. The findings confirmed that samples shipped from institutions in the United States and Australia can be analyzed at St. Jude for genetic abnormalities rapidly enough to provide physicians with information to guide their treatment decisions.
The study also demonstrated that by detecting the presence of a protein called ERBB2 in tumor samples, doctors might be able to predict which children with medulloblastoma will require more intensive treatment.
Radiation therapy can cause loss of some normal brain tissue, resulting in a decline in intellectual function and long-term problems with certain hormones, such as thyroid and growth hormones. Therefore, identifying patients who can safely undergo a milder course of treatment can help minimize these lasting effects of therapy.
Ultimately, guiding treatment using knowledge of tumor biology could increase survival rates while reducing the severity of toxic side-effects.
The study was led by Richard Gilbertson, M.D., Ph.D., of St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology, and Amar Gajjar, M.D., in the department of Hematology/Oncology.
"This study paves the way to generate a comprehensive molecular fingerprint of the genetic abnormalities in medulloblastoma," Gilbertson said. "The information will allow us to provide new guidelines for the way we use existing treatments and help us to identify new therapies."
Gajjar elaborated on the need for new treatment guidelines.