Scientific research is the key component in the battle to cure pediatric brain tumors and brain cancer. Its success points directly to the value of collaborations among researchers, medical facilities, nonprofit organizations and even private philanthropies. These groups often come together with a common purpose, and join forces to work towards a single goal – finding a cure for this terrible childhood disease.
There are many such collaborative efforts taking place in the area of pediatric brain cancer, which is considered to be the deadliest of all childhood cancers. For instance, there is the newly established, Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium, involving the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation and researchers at several leading pediatric oncology hospitals nationwide. This consortium enables researchers to obtain samples of brain tumor tissue that can be used to evaluate treatments. The results can then be documented in a database that can be shared with pediatric cancer facilities across the country.
The result of another such partnership recently came by way of a landmark study of medulloblastoma *, a type of brain tumor typically found in children. (* "The Genetic Landscape of the Childhood Cancer Medulloblastoma," Science, published online, December 16, 2010). The large, multi-center study defines the genetic landscape of this cancer, and holds intriguing clues to gene changes on signaling pathways that may become fruitful targets for future therapies. This is a very significant and hopeful finding, and one that researchers, doctors and parents alike are celebrating.
There are a number of other, ongoing research programs that also center on establishing better treatment methods, reducing the adverse side effects of these treatments, and increasing the number of survivors. While progress is being made, it continues to be challenging for a number of reasons:
- There are many different kinds of children's brain and spinal cord tumors, which has stymied research as investigators face the challenges of collecting and analyzing tissue;
- Because the disease is rare and tissue samples of tumors are small, it takes time to test and validate new treatment options; and
- Funds for research and treatment options are limited, due to the relatively low rate of incidence, compared to other childhood cancers and diseases.
While the incidence rate of pediatric brain tumors and brain cancers may be reliably low, with approximately 3,400 children diagnosed each year, nearly one in three of these children will not survive more than five years. And, those who do survive will likely suffer damage, long-term effects from the very treatments that saved them. However, due to the dedicated research that has taken place over the last twenty years, there have been noticeable decreases in the overall cancer death rates. The research taking place today will hopefully, someday help to minimize the side effects and allow these survivors to live longer, healthier lives.
We read about breakthroughs in medical research every day, and when we do, we applaud the researchers, and rejoice for those who might benefit from the results. We celebrate the success of the research programs, as we should; but it's important to understand the efforts behind the breakthroughs. It requires unwavering dedication from the researchers, doctors and other medical professionals, tremendous commitment from the nonprofit organizations that help promote the cause, and an extra sense sense of charity from the financial supporters. Talk about a collaborative effort! There likely would be no breakthroughs; no success stories to celebrate were it not for the alliances formed by these remarkable groups of people.
To learn more about current research efforts in the area of pediatric brain cancer, make a donation, or find out how you might become a partner in one of these collaborative programs, contact one of the many nonprofit organizations or medical research facilities focused on bringing an end to this dreadful disease. Many together can accomplish more than one, alone.