RESEARCHERS at Edinburgh University have made a major breakthrough in understanding how childhood glioblastoma brain tumours develop.

Research funded by Children with Cancer UK has found that the specific location of the cell that gives rise to the tumour profoundly influences how the tumour will subsequently develop and the level of its severity.

It is hoped that mapping the origins of these cancers and the earliest events driving their growth will lead to the development of new treatments.

Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. While rare in children, making up just 8% of childhood brain and spinal cord tumours in the UK, it can be particularly devastating, as their location makes them hard to treat. Sadly, just a quarter of glioblastoma patients survive more than one year.

Tumours can arise in different parts of the brain and can appear very similar, however they have discreet mutations depending on their location. This has so far been a puzzle for scientists, who have been unable to explain why different mutations and cancers arise in different regions of the brain.

The study, led by Professor Steven Pollard, set out to understand the origins of these aggressive childhood brain tumours and why certain mutations give rise to different forms of the disease. They found that the location of the cells impacts how they will respond to different mutations.

A powerful mutation can be dangerous in one region of the brain, however, similar cells from another region of the brain can detect that it is dangerous and have a “safety switch” stopping any further development.

These results can help scientists understand why different mutations and cancers arise in different anatomical regions of the brain, with varying degrees of aggressiveness and help us understand the origins of childhood brain cancer and how different tumours work.

Ultimately, this new insight may help future development of more effective treatments for the disease.

Pollard said: “For a long time, how these childhood forms of glioblastoma develop has been a bit of a puzzle. Our research answers this question ... We are also excited by the possibilities the new cellular models we have built can be used in development and testing of new treatments.”