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

September 05, 2002

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

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Seattle Children’s has been delivering superior patient care while advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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