Sonic Hedgehog helps detect brain tumours in children


Child poking head up in bath

A team of scientists at the Institut de Recherces Cliniques de Montreal (ICRM) are believed to have discovered a mechanism that encourages the progression of medulloblastoma, the most common brain tumour found in children. The mechanism involves a protein known as Sonic Hedgehog, which induces DNA damage, causing the cancer to develop. The discovery of this protein  is an important breakthrough; the study is due to be published in the scientific journal Developmental Cell’s October 13th issue.

Sonic Hedgehog is a member of a family of proteins, all known to give cells the required information for the embryo to develop properly. It also plays a significant role in tumorigenesis, the process that transforms normal cells into cancer cells.

Within this protein family, the team also discovered a protein called Boc, which is a receptor located on the cells surface that detects Sonic Hedgehog. In previous studies, the team have shown that Boc is important for the development of the cerebellum, the part of the brain in which medulloblastoma surfaces.

Investigating Boc further led them to find that its presence is required for Sonic Hedgehog to induce DNA damage. Furthermore, they noted that Boc causes DNA mutations in tumour cells, promoting the progression of precancerous lesion into advanced medulloblatoma. This study found that when Boc was deactivated, the numbers of tumours reduced by 66 per cent effectively indicating that Boc being inactive reduces the development of early medulloblastoma into advanced tumours.

This research is important as medulloblastoma is among the leading cause of cancer-related mobility in children. Currently, treatments include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which are highly invasive. Though the majority of children survive these treatments, radiation therapy damages normal brain cells in toddlers and infants, causing long-term side effects such as cognitive impairment and disorders.

The findings from this study illustrate that targeting Boc has the potential to develop a new therapeutic approach to treatment that could eliminate the growth and progression of medulloblastoma making it unnecessary to endure the adverse side effects caused by current treatments. However, considering each person genetic make-up results in slightly different brain organisation, it would be interesting to see the sample characteristics and research methods employed in the published study.

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

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Intervention Teacher and Freelance Writer with a Psychology BSc and MA in Education. Lives in East London with husband and two disabled cats. @MontagMildred

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