The central nervous system is the most common site of primary solid tumors in children. Astrocytomas make up approximately 40% of the brain tumors in the pediatric population. Astrocytomas are divided into low and high-grade tumors. Low grade tumors typically have an excellent prognosis. Gross total resection (GTR) is the initial treatment of choice, as extent of resection has been repeatedly shown to correlate inversely with the risk of progression or recurrence rates. In some locations, however, such as the brainstem and diencephalon, GTR is difficult or impossible to achieve due to the potential morbidity of aggressive resection. Radiation therapy is effective in controlling tumor progression and has been the mainstay of treatment for postoperative residual tumor. Due to the significant toxicity of radiation, particularly in very young children, chemotherapy has emerged as a viable therapeutic alternative. Despite these multiple treatment options, a number of patients with low-grade gliomas will still die. The prognosis for high-grade gliomas is even worse. Only rare patients survive beyond two years after diagnosis, and the prognosis for these patients has changed little over the past 15 years. Thus, there remains a pressing need for the development of additional therapies for pediatric patients with astrocytomas. This project involves the development of novel materials and animal models to address current challenges with the imaging, treatment and monitoring of pediatric brain cancers.
Over the past year, the investigators have synthesized two unique families of nanoscale particles, demonstrated their ability to serve as hosts for the packaging of chemotherapeutic agents with control over the rates of release, and confirmed their cytotoxicity against glioblastoma cells. They are now focusing efforts on selective targeting of the nanoparticles to the cancer cells.