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Feb 13, 2020

Childhood brain tumor discovery may unlock new treatments for many cancers

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, neuroscience

“” This cancer seems simple. Basically, it has been known for many years it is just one type of cells that proliferate out of control,” Zong said. “However, we noticed an interesting paradox. While tumor cells grow really fast in the body, they grow poorly and only for a limited time when we take them out and put them in a [lab] dish. So we suspected some other cells may be in play.”

His investigation of that suspicion turned science’s understanding of medulloblastoma on its head. Using an innovative model of the disease, Zong and his team marked tumor cells so that they would appear green. That led to the first surprise: While all other cell types outside the tumor are colorless, a cell type called astrocyte appeared green, which never happens in normal brain regions.

“Astrocyte actually has been linked to poor prognosis of medulloblastoma, but nobody has ever suspected its origin, since the cell of origin for medulloblastoma normally never gives rise to astrocytes. The fact that tumor-associated astrocytes share the same color with tumor cells suggests that they actually come from tumor cells,” he said. “So some tumor cells basically completely change their identity to make a separate cell type.”

That was a shocker on its own. But it proved to be just the beginning of a complex process that nurtures the growth of this “simple” cancer.”


A surprising discovery about a rare form of childhood brain cancer suggests a new treatment approach for that cancer—and potentially many others.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the supposedly simple , called medulloblastoma, forms an unexpectedly intricate network to drive its growth. Some cells actually turn into another type of cell altogether. The discovery raises the exciting possibility that doctors may be able to intervene to stop the disease—and possibly other cancers as well.

Lead researcher Hui Zong of UVA’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology and the UVA Cancer Center suspects this network formation is common in cancer.

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