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Malignant Metabolism

A switch in metabolism in childhood brain cancer medulloblastoma cells causes their spread

10 August 2021

Malignant Metabolism

Growing among these healthy neurons (green) are malevolent medulloblastoma cells (red). While medulloblastoma is rare in the general population, it is the most common and most deadly type of brain cancer to affect children. The cancer begins in the back of the brain – a region called the cerebellum – causing symptoms such as headaches, clumsiness and vision problems. But, as the cancer creeps into other parts of the brain, or the spinal cord, so the symptoms vary and worsen. The ability of medulloblastoma to spread, scientists have discovered, depends on the cells switching their metabolic activity to allow the neurotransmitter GABA to be used as an energy source. Worryingly, this metabolic switch also makes the cells more resistant to common chemotherapies. While the findings suggest existing treatments are limited, they will ultimately aid the development of new ones, if a way to prevent or exploit the metabolic switch can be found.

Written by Ruth Williams

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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