Virus discovery may aid treatment of children's brain tumour

In collaboration with the Press Association

A large proportion of medulloblastomas - the most common malignant brain tumour in children - are infected with a virus, according to work published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Although the work doesn't solve whether or not the virus has a specific role in causing the disease, researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Instituet hope that their study could lead to the development of new treatments for children with medulloblastomas.

The team found that a virus known as human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) was present in many tumour samples and medulloblastoma cells grown in the lab.

The presence of HCMV was proven by detecting several proteins known to be made by the virus within the tumour cells.

The researchers, led by Professor Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler and Professor John Inge Johnsen, also carried out tests in cells in the lab and in mice to see if drugs that affect the virus have any effect on tumour cell growth.

They found that the antiviral drug valganciclovir reduced the growth of the tumour cells both in the laboratory and in mice.

Similar effects were seen using a drug called celecoxib, which blocks a protein known to be increased by HCMV, called COX-2.

The drugs did not affect the growth of tumour cells in the laboratory or mouse tumours that were not infected with HCMV.

In an associated commentary, Dr Cynthia Hawkins and Dr Sidney Croul said that targeting HCMV might offer potential treatment developments not only for medulloblastomas, but also for other brain tumours including gliomas and choroid plexus papillomas.

But, further study is needed into the effects of targeted treatment on humans before its true benefits to people with brain tumours are fully understood.

Oliver Childs, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Whether viruses directly contribute to the development of certain brain tumours has been a hotly debated topic for decades. This study certainly doesn't solve whether human cytomegalovirus causes medulloblastomas.

"But it does suggest that the virus is present in a large percentage of these brain tumours. So - as these preliminary results also indicate - drugs that interfere with the activity of human cytomegalovirus could be an interesting avenue of further investigation for the treatment of medulloblastomas."

Copyright Press Association 2011

References

  • Baryawno, N. et al. Detection of human cytomegalovirus in medulloblastomas reveals a potential therapeutic target. J Clin Invest DOI:10.1172/JCI57147