Finding the right target to prevent medulloblastoma relapse

When MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researcher Jezabel R. Blanco, Ph.D., began studying neurosciences, first as a graduate student and later as a postdoctoral fellow, her research was focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying brain disease, both in the context of neurodegeneration and cancer, but mostly from a basic research angle. 

However, after she arrived at MUSC Darby Children’s Research Institute and Hollings Cancer Center as an assistant professor in 2020, she began working with the doctors who treat pediatric brain cancer patients and interacting with the families of some of these kids. She heard their stories of children with medulloblastoma, the cancer that she studies, and their firsthand accounts changed the way she thought about things. 

“The toxicity that is linked to the treatment that they receive is terrible,” she said. 

Further, because there is less research into pediatric cancers than adult cancers, most of the drugs used to treat medulloblastoma are decades old – the newest was developed in the late 1990s. Some of the others were approved  back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, she said. And when patients relapse, doctors don’t have any further options for them. While the five-year survival rate for medulloblastoma is about 70%, for those kids who relapse, this number is close to zero. Unfortunately, she said, 30% of these children will relapse. 

This has made Blanco determined to understand the biological mechanisms that cause relapse so that new drugs can be developed.  

“We need to have better treatments for these kids. We need treatments to be more targeted so they will be less toxic and more effective,” she said.  

She is already making progress.  

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