A team from the IRCM (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal) discovered a mechanism that can prevent the formation of medulloblastoma, the most common brain tumour in children. Led by Frédéric Charron, PhD, Director of the IRCM’s Molecular Biology of Neural Development research unit and Associate Research Professor at the Université de Montréal, the study was published in Cell Reports.
The most common brain tumour in children
Medulloblastoma is the most common form of brain tumours in children. Current therapies – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – are very aggressive for young patients treated for medulloblastoma and, in cases where patients survive, can cause permanent neurological damage. To reduce the use of these treatments, Dr. Charron’s team aims to prevent the development of medulloblastoma by uncovering the mechanisms that lead to the formation of tumours.
However, monitoring a brain tumour’s progression proves to be a great challenge. “On the one hand, it is very difficult to detect brain tumours before they become cancerous,” says Lukas Tamayo-Orrego, a doctoral student in Dr. Charron’s laboratory and first author of the scientific publication. “On the other hand, even if we were successful in doing so, collecting a sample from the cerebellum, where the tumour develops, would be a delicate task.”
As part of the study, Lukas and his colleagues observed mice that spontaneously developed precancerous tumours. Their results showed these tumours do not always become advanced medulloblastoma. Indeed, in the majority of mice, the precancerous cells stopped dividing before they could form a tumour, a process called cell senescence. The team found that the difference between the group with cell senescence and the ones that developed advanced medulloblastoma lies in a single gene, gene p53. Mutations in this gene evade cellular senescence, thus leading to the formation of medulloblastoma.
“Now that we know that this type of tumour has the ability to regress and disappear, it could be possible to find a way to promote cell senescence to prevent medulloblastoma formation,” concludes Lukas Tamayo-Orrego. “Developing less invasive treatments to help patients with medulloblastoma would then become a possibility.”
About the study
The research project was conducted in the IRCM’s Molecular Biology of Neural Development research unit by Lukas Tamayo-Orrego, Chia-Lun Wu, Nicolas Bouchard, Ahmed Khedher, Shannon M. Swikert and Frédéric Charron. Marc Remke, from the University Hospital Deusseldorf in Germany, as well as Patryk Skowron and Michael Taylor, from the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto, also collaborated on the study. The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canada Research Chairs Program.
About Frédéric Charron
Frédéric Charron obtained his PhD in experimental medicine from McGill University. He is the Director of the IRCM’s Molecular Biology of Neural Development research unit and Full IRCM Research Professor. Dr. Charron is Associate Research Professor in the Department of Medicine (accreditation in molecular biology) at the Université de Montréal. He is also Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), the Department of Biology, and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University. In addition, he is a member of the McGill Integrated Program in Neuroscience and the NSERC-CREATE Training Program in Neuroengineering. Dr. Charron holds the Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neurobiology.
About the IRCM
The IRCM (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal) is a renowned biomedical research institute located in the heart of Montréal's university district. Founded in 1967, it is currently comprised of 35 research units and four research specialized clinics: nutrition, metabolism and atherosclerosis; hypertension; diabetes; and rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis and familial hyperlipidemia. The IRCM employs nearly 425 people. It is affiliated with the Université de Montréal, and the IRCM Clinic is associated to the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM). It also maintains a long-standing association with McGill University. The IRCM is funded by the Quebec ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation (Ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation). For more information, visit www.ircm.qc.ca.