Brain Stem Glioma - Childhood: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about brain stem glioma and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about brain stem glioma, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to children diagnosed with brain stem glioma. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your child’s doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for your child.

  • Improved imaging and surgery. Imaging techniques are being developed that help the surgeon pinpoint the tumor’s exact location to reduce or prevent damage to the healthy parts of the brain. For example, image-guided stereotaxis allows surgeons to visualize and operate on the brain using 3-dimensional computerized outlines of the brain and the tumor. Along with specialized software, these images help guide the surgeon to the tumor. Tumors that were once considered inoperable can now be removed using this technique. In certain instances, these imaging techniques are also being used to better understand the benefits and risks of using a biopsy to diagnose children with diffuse brain stem glioma.

  • Improved radiation therapy. Conformal radiation therapy is a way to give high doses of radiation therapy directly to a tumor and not healthy tissue. This technique creates detailed, 3-dimensional maps of the brain and the tumor so doctors know exactly where to deliver the radiation therapy. In addition, drugs designed to enhance the effectiveness of radiation therapy or to slow or stop tumor growth are also being studied.

  • Molecular features. Other research is focused on evaluating the abnormal molecular features of brain stem glioma cells to better diagnosis and categorize these tumors. These features are found by examining the tumor after a biopsy and may help doctors find treatments that target the tumor based on the specific molecular features (see below).

  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the tumor’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to a tumor's growth and survival. This type of treatment blocks the growth and spread of tumor cells while limiting damage to healthy cells. For brain stem glioma, researchers are studying new treatments that target certain molecular features found in the tumor (see above). Learn more about the basics of targeted treatments.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the tumor. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function. For brain stem glioma, doctors are researching vaccines that may treat the tumor. Learn more about the basics of immunotherapy and cancer vaccines.

  • New ways to give chemotherapy. The blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain and spinal cord from damaging chemicals, also keeps out many types of chemotherapy. New methods of giving chemotherapy called convection-enhanced delivery are also being studied. This method uses a narrow tube called a catheter that is placed into the brain so chemotherapy can be directed at the tumor.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current brain stem glioma treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

  • Tissue donation. Some families find that donating tissue feels appropriate as part of the grieving process after their child’s death. Similar to organ donation, tissue donations can help researchers learn more about how tumors change and spread to help develop new treatments for children with brain stem glioma. Talk with your child's doctor for more information about tissue donation.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in brain stem glioma, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that a brain stem glioma and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.