What are we doing to find a cure for DIPG? Interview with Rebecca Rogers

3 min read

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is an aggressive, high-grade brain tumour, most often occurring in children. More recently named diffuse midline glioma, DIPG has an extremely poor prognosis of eight to 12 months and is the leading cause of brain tumour deaths in children.

To share more about what Brain Tumour Research is doing to find a cure for this devastating disease, we spoke with Rebecca Rogers, a postdoctoral Research Fellow at our newest Centre of Excellence at The Institute of Cancer Research where the primary focus is paediatric high-grade gliomas (including DIPG).

What is diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG)?

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a highly aggressive brain tumour that arises in the pons region of the brainstem which is responsible for controlling essential life functions such as breathing and heartbeat. DIPG is a type of diffuse midline glioma (DMG) which has recently been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a paediatric specific group of brain tumours.

Why has DIPG proven so difficult to treat?

Due to their location in the pons/brainstem and the diffuse nature of DIPG it is not possible to operate to remove all the tumour, instead we need to use other treatment strategies including drugs and radiotherapy. The current standard of treatment for DIPG involves radiation treatment, this provides the only therapeutic response but unfortunately this is often temporary with most patients surviving less than a year after diagnosis. Over the last decade there have been huge advances in our understanding of the unique biology that underpins and drives DIPG, including the realisation that paediatric brain tumours are molecularly very different to those that occur in adults. Our team, along with others in the field, is working hard to translate this new understanding into new paediatric specific treatment options.

How will the work at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at The Institute of Cancer Research help improve the outcomes for children with DIPG?

The Centre will provide comprehensive preclinical screening to assess and prioritise novel targets and combinations based on our improved understanding. We aim to produce as much high-quality data as possible in the shortest feasible time to bridge the gap between basic biology and clinical benefit to support new clinical trials for children and young adults with high-grade glioma. We hope to open the most promising approaches within established CONNECT clinical trial platforms across the consortium worldwide.

What motivated you to study DIPG and other paediatric-type diffuse high-grade gliomas (PDHGG)?

I have always been motivated by research that is focused towards finding better more effective treatments with the hope of improving clinical outcomes for patients. When I first looked to join the glioma team, I was struck by their strong clinical research focus, the unique collaborative research environment but mostly by the unchanging poor survival of children diagnosed with DIPG/DMG. Since joining the team five years ago, I am continually inspired by the families and charities that help fund our research and I feel very privileged to be able to contribute towards identifying new treatment options.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

I’m an early bird, so my day usually starts in tissue culture just after breakfast! I’m often taking care of multiple different patient-derived models in lots of flasks and plates to test which genes are important for their survival or which drugs are more effective at killing the cells, either on their own or in combination with another drug.

When I’m not in the lab setting up new experiments you can find me at my desk analysing the data from the previous week or reading the most recently published papers to keep up to date and get inspiration for the next experiment!

Left to right: Rebecca Rogers, Drenusha Sejdiu, Anna Burford and Molina Das.

What do you hope treatment will look like for children with DIPG in years to come?

I feel very hopeful that in the not-too-distant future that there will be PDHGG and DIPG specific therapies, based on their distinct underlying biology, coming through the clinical trial pipeline. There are already several promising therapies currently in development and more efforts being made to address drug delivery and overcome the blood-brain barrier. While it may take some time before these treatments are widely available, there is hope that they will offer new options for children and families affected by this devastating disease.

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