Medulloblastoma is a deadly form of pediatric brain cancer that strikes the cerebellum, a brain structure near the base of the skull. When it spreads to the lining of the brain or spinal cord, it is especially dangerous. Medulloblastoma is the deadliest form of pediatric brain tumor, and until recently, scientists had little idea how it spreads and infects other parts of the brain.
Now, a team of researchers at USC Brain Tumor Center and Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in California has learned more details about how medulloblastoma travels from its origin site to other parts of the brain. An enzyme called GABA transaminase, abbreviated as ABAT, helps tumor cells find nutrition and evade treatments.
The part of the brain where medulloblastoma attacks is normally very lacking in the compounds tumors seek for fuel. But ABAT allows the the tumor to digest a common neurotransmitter instead of something like blood sugar, which is what most tumors consume.
What’s more, ABAT allows a tumor to slow down it’s growth. Normally this sounds like a good thing, but it makes medulloblastoma harder to treat, because chemotherapy and radiation are designed to target very rapidly growing tissue (because that’s what most cancers do). Medulloblastoma uses ABAT to grow slowly and silently.
After this discovery, the team at USC will begin exploring whether drugs that block the action of ABAT can prevent medulloblastoma tumors from spreading, and possibly make them more susceptible to chemo and radiation. While it’s early stages, these developments are a reminder about how basic research into neuroscience paves the way to cures for even the most deadly forms of brain tumors.