Research breakthrough for brain stem cancer found in kids

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - St. Jude is so much more than a hospital.

With cutting edge research, doctors have been able to turn the once 4 percent survival rate for acute lymphocyte leukemia into 80 percent since the hospital first opened its doors.

Now medical researchers are aiming to attain similar results for dipg, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a specific type of brain tumor that has a 90 percent fatality rate for patients over a two-year period.

Located at the brain stem, this extremely aggressive and invasive cancer mainly hits children, another reason Troy McEachron, a St. Jude researcher, is searching so hard for a cure.

"So, imagine you have a sandbox and you take a basketball and throw the basketball into the sandbox, it would be really easy for you to find the basketball, dust off the sand it would all be good," McEachron said. "Now, take a handful of gravel and throw that into that sandbox it's going to be really tough to get every last bit and piece."

Because of the high fatality rate, researchers previously have been unable to study tissues samples at the level required to understand and learn from the disease.

But McEachron and other researchers at St. Jude have made a breakthrough thanks to high resolution genetic analysis.

"We found a mutation in a family of genes and this is found in about 78 percent of patients with dipg and we're the only group to report such a finding," McEachron said.

Now that the mutation has been isolated, researchers can understand how it works.

With continued research McEachron is confident that over the next few years they will be able to offer better targeted therapies for predisposed patients and a fighting chance.

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