It is hard to believe something so stunning can be so very deadly, but these images taken by Hunter medical researchers offer an intimate look at a “ferocious” brain cancer that almost exclusively affects children.
A team of researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) have begun to dig deeper into the brain stem cancer known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG.
Speaking to Anita Beaumont for the Newcastle Herald the team chose to honour of DIPG Awareness Day, by sharing images of the cancer’s “neurospheres,” grown in their Newcastle lab, in the hope it will draw attention to the devastating disease that has an overall survival rate of just 10 months.
"That means that half the kids who get it will live less than that,” Dr Matt Dun, a Cancer Institute NSW Fellow associated with HMRI and the University of Newcastle, told Ms Beaumont.
"DIPG has a two-year survival rate of 10 per cent, and longer than that, a 1 per cent survival,” Dr Dun said. “The geography of the cancer is probably the cause of all of this, and the changes in the cells are dramatic – something I’ve not seen in my years of cancer research."
DIPG was such a “ferocious disease” that some parents chose to decline radiotherapy – the only current therapy available – because it was only temporarily beneficial at best, and on occasion, completely failed, he said.
"DIPG is rare, but it is responsible for the most associated deaths because everyone dies with it," Dr Dun said.
But, Dr Dun continued, there was some solid research happening in the field, such as one study that managed to eradicate DIPG in mice, but caused potentially fatal inflammation.
It was a step in the right direction. Progress. And more studies like this could be investigated if more money was channelled into medical research.
"Gene sequencing laboratories around the world have sequenced more than 1500 DIPGs to get the gene mutations, but no-one has looked at the protein expressions yet, which is what my group does," Dr Dun said.
"We're grouping patients with different mutations together, and then comparing them to see if we can find unique signatures that might be target-able with drugs that are already in existence."
"That's what we've started, and that's what we're working towards."
"Rather than trying to build more beds, we could probably keep people out of beds by putting more money into medical research," he said.
The Kids’ Cancer Project thanks Fairfax Media, Newcastle Herald and Anita Beaumont for permission to publish this article.