New Possibilities for Treating Deadly Childhood Brain Cancer Published in Journal ''Science''

Seattle: The results of a research project that revealed new possibilities for treating deadly childhood brain cancer were published in the August 30 issue of the journal “Science.”

Seattle: The results of a research project that revealed new possibilities for treating deadly childhood brain cancer were published in the August 30 issue of the journal “Science.” The research was conducted by James Olson, M.D., a fellow at Children’s Hospital and clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Andrew Hallahan, M.D., an attending neurooncology physician at Children’s and clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins. These researchers have shown that the growth of medulloblastoma, the most common form of malignant childhood brain cancer, was stopped by a plant chemical known as cyclopamine.

Dr. Olson used tumor samples from seven patients who underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital. Initiating the experiment in the operating room, Dr. Olson’s team placed the excised tumor cells in a laboratory dish and exposed the cells to cyclopamine. Cyclopamine killed up to 99.9 percent of the cancer cells after one week of treatment.

According to Dr. Olson, current treatment options of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are better today, yet a number of children still die from these tumors and often the therapy permanently damages many of those who survive. Drugs like cyclopamine, that block a specific pathway critical for medulloblastoma growth, represent the first step toward the goal of replacing toxic therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Researchers at Fred Hutchinson and Children’s Hospital are leading the way in testing new anti-cancer drugs. In 1999, they pioneered the technique to evaluate potential therapies on patient samples derived during surgical resection. This new approach enables many drugs to be compared directly on patient tumor cells, rapidly accelerating the discovery of new, effective drugs.

As an example, one of the drugs that showed promise in this manner will be tested in a national clinical trial for children with brain tumors beginning next year. The pace of going from an idea all the way to clinical trial within three years is basically unheard of when traditional screening methods were used in the past.

The survival rate for medulloblastoma depends on a number of circumstances. If a child is over age three and has a complete surgical resection followed by radiation and chemotherapy, the likelihood of three-year cancer-free survival is about seventy percent. For children with metastatic disease or disease in certain places of the brain, the survival drops to about 50 percent. For children under age three, the outcome remains about 30 percent even after highly aggressive therapy that sometimes includes multiple rounds of chemotherapy combined with infusions hematopoetic stem cells.

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Through the collaboration of physicians in nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties, Seattle Children’s Hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, surgical, rehabilitative, behavioral, and emergency and outreach services to families from around the world.

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, bioethics and much more.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association work together to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care, clinical care and research. The foundation receives nearly 80,000 gifts each year, from lemonade stand proceeds to corporate sponsorships. Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, serving as the umbrella organization for 450 groups of people who turn an activity they love into a fundraiser. Support from the foundation and guild association makes it possible for Seattle Children’s care and research teams to improve the health and well-being of all kids.

For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.