Innovations in infant brain cancer

Photo of Dr Cynthia Hawkins
Dr Cynthia Hawkins
A promising study conducted by Dr Cynthia Hawkins has led to significant discoveries about infant brain cancers that could help increase the number of children who survive this diagnosis.

Looking to study possible genetic differences underlying brain cancers in infants, Dr Hawkins and a team of international researchers examined types of brain and spinal cord tumours called gliomas.

Based on her experience as a clinician, Dr Hawkins knew that the outcomes of gliomas in infants under the age of one are less predictable, often leading to babies receiving ineffective or unnecessary treatments.

“In the clinic, infant gliomas behave opposite to what we see in older children,” says Dr Hawkins. “We know that many current treatments have really bad side effects, which is a huge issue for these babies.”

With the support of a CCS Impact Grant, Dr Hawkins and her team discovered that gliomas in infants fall into three main subtypes, and that many gliomas in infants can be targeted with new precision medicine drugs.

“What we’ve seen is that if we can do a biopsy and find out the underlying genetics of the tumour, we could potentially treat them with targeted therapies,” says Dr Hawkins. “We’ve seen fantastic responses to targeted therapies in infants to the point where we can get the tumours small enough to remove by surgery.”

With funding from CCS donors, researchers like Dr Hawkins are working to develop improved treatment strategies for all types of cancer. You can fund some of Canada’s brightest researchers by purchasing a Gift of Discovery.