UCSF brain tumor study could help children

OAKLAND -- Seven year old Scarlett Wecks is beating the odds. When she was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after birth, doctors gave her little chance for survival.

"The prognosis was not good. So we were initially sent home with hospice," her father Chris remembers.

But surgeons at the UCSF / Benioff Childrens' Hospital Oakland devised a plan. First they removed the tumor known as a congenital glioblastoma, then followed the surgery up with strong chemotherapy that challenged her infant body.

"We're really hoping that for the the kids that come after Scarlett that have this same tumor that and other tumors that are similar and difficult to treatments that are less toxic," says Scarlett's mom Brandi.

Now, Neuro-Oncologist Sabine Mueller and her colleagues at UCSF are leading an effort that will sequence the genetic make-up of individual brain tumors looking for their unique traits. The goal is to find multiple ways to attack the tumor, using a cocktail of drugs.

"We will not have success just applying one medication we will need to apply multiple meidcation," Dr. Mueller believes.

Researchers hoping that existing drugs, not typically used in cancer treatment will eventually be a part of the mix -- slowing the tumor down to make other parts of the cocktail more effective. But just as importantly, in cases like Scarlett's, be gentler on the body.

"And because they have a very different side effect profile it allows us to combine them with some more classic chemotherapy agents," says Dr. Mueller.

The trial will stretch across 18 sites in the U.S. and Canada. Doctors say they have seen some early success with newer targeted treatments in specific cases. And since the tumors can often re-appear, any advances could also benefit existing patients down the road. Scarlett's mom and dad say they're hoping for day she can live a full and productive life.

"We want to find a way for her to feel like she can make a difference in the world, and she has a place where she fits and belongs," says her mom.

Scarlett is receiving her treatment with doctors from both Stanford and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.

Forty four Children and young adults will be participating in the new study.
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