Fellowship funds major research project on medulloblastoma

October 03, 2005

Cure for Life FoundationTM has awarded one of the largest single fellowships on brain tumour research in Australia to a senior researcher at Children's Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) for Medical Research in Randwick, NSW.

Dr Wayne Thomas has received a three-year $600,000 Career Development and Support Fellowship to work on medulloblastoma, a solid tumour in the lower brain that occurs in young children. Brain tumours are the most common solid tumours in children and a leading cause of death in children under 9. Twenty percent of brain tumours are medulloblastoma.

The Cancer Institute NSW reviewed applications for this grant and recommended that Dr Thomas receive the Fellowship for brain tumour research.

Dr Thomas will be building on knowledge gained from extensive studies of neuroblastoma, a disease that also affect areas of the central nervous system that he undertook at the CCIA in the Molecular Carcinogenesis Program. Medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma are malignancies of the central nervous system that are thought to originate in the developing embryo.

"Our work on neuroblastoma has given us a better understanding of the molecular processes at work in the emergence of a tumour. This insight will guide us in the search for new therapeutic strategies to inhibit the proliferation of a malignant tumour," said A/Prof Glenn Marshall, Head of the Molecular Carcinogenesis Program.

"At present only 50-60% of children with medulloblastoma survive five years after diagnosis."

The aim is to gain a better understanding of how events prior to birth and early childhood contribute to the emergence of cancer and possibly prevent nervous system cancers before they emerge.

Using laboratory models of medulloblastoma that mirror how the disease behaves in children, Dr Thomas hopes to elucidate the role of the sonic hedgehog (Shh) signalling protein and identify target genes that contribute to the formation of brain tumours.

"This grant recognises the importance of Dr Thomas's current and future work on a childhood cancer that continues to claim young lives. The resources provided by the Cure for Life FoundationTM will enable us to launch a comprehensive, multifaceted research project on medulloblastoma that has the potential to make advances in treating and possibly preventing this disease," said Prof Michelle Haber, Executive Director, CCIA.

Research Goals

  • To have a better understanding of how events prior to birth and early childhood can contribute to the emergence of cancer by;

  • Identifying the mechanisms that cause specific cells, known as granule cell progenitors, (GCPs) in an embryo to persist as pre-cancerous tissue;

  • To undertake groundwork on the development of strategies to prevent nervous system cancers before they emerge

  • by identifying factors which are necessary for brain tumour initiation.

  • To distinguish between factors that initiate cancer and factors that perpetuate it;

  • To use laboratory models of medulloblastoma to elucidate how disruption of an important protein, known as the sonic hedgehog signalling protein, is linked to the development of both child and adult brain tumours;

  • To identify the target genes, including the oncogene MYCN, that may contribute to the formation of brain tumours;

  • To improve the treatment of medulloblastoma by developing new therapeutic strategies utilising novel small molecules which may inhibit the proliferation of the tumour.
    -end-
    For further information please contact: Susan Bogle, Public Relations Executive, (CCIA) Tel: +61 2 9382 0047 or mobile 0412 104 805

    Research Australia

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