Scientists divide ependymoma brain tumours into two types

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers have discovered that a brain tumour that affects both children and adults can be divided into two clinically distinct groups. The team also found that these groups can be identified using a widely available lab test, which could help pinpoint patients in need of the most intense treatment.

An international study, led by scientists at the German Cancer Research Centre and Heidelberg University Hospital, used genetic analysis to identify two different types of posterior fossa ependymoma. Ependymomas are tumours that develop in the central nervous system and are the third most common type of brain tumour in children. Although more common in children, ependymomas also occur in adults.

If these findings are confirmed in further studies, they could lead to doctors using a simple test to determine which type of tumour a patient has, allowing them to adapt treatment accordingly.

In the largest ever genetic study of posterior fossa ependymomas, researchers analysed the genetic differences between 583 tissue samples, and found that the posterior fossa ependymomas could be divided into two types.

Group A tumours affected younger patients and were more aggressive - they were more likely to come back after treatment and were more likely to spread to other parts of the body

By contrast, group B tumours tended to affect adults and patients were more likely to respond to treatment.

Study leader Dr Stefan Pfister said: "The genetic differences between these two types are so marked that we have to speak of two different diseases that may even arise from different original cells."

The results of the study mean that Dr Pfister and his colleagues will now be able to take a closer look at group A ependymomas to identify what makes these tumours more aggressive.

The researchers hope that their findings could eventually pave the way for the development of better drugs to specifically fight this type of tumour.

Oliver Childs, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Until recently, little was known about the underlying biology of this type of brain tumour. But this research is among a growing body of work that's starting to uncover the inner workings of this cancer.

"Once confirmed in clinical studies, this work could be used to identify which ependymoma patients are most at risk of their cancer coming back or spreading, and so in need of the most aggressive treatment. This study also provides a foundation for further work to find which genes drive each type of tumour, which could lead to more targeted and effective treatments."

Copyright Press Association 2011

References

Witt, H. et al. Delineation of two clinically and molecularly distinct subgroups of posterior fossa ependymoma. Cancer Cell DOI:10.1016/j.ccr.2011.07.007