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[2019/08/06] Cooperation between Taiwan and France has Cracked the Mechanism behind Cerebellar Malignant Tumors

National Yang-Ming University Institute of Brain Science held a press conference, “Cooperation between Taiwan and France Discovers the Mechanism behind Cerebellar Brain Tumors” on June 28th


The reason why brain tumors develop in children has always been the painful problem that must be faced by both the children and their parents and the origin of these tumors has remained a mystery to oncologists. Cooperation between the French Institute Curie and National Yang-Ming University Institute of Brain Science, by the use of cutting-edge imaging technology, has finally cracked the mechanism behind brain tumor development. The study was published in the internationally well-known journal Developmental Cell, which is the first ranked journal in developmental biology.


The cross-national team targeted medulloblastoma, the most common malignant tumor in children. The occurrence rate is 14.5% among all intracranial tumors in children and the tumors usually clog ventricles, which increases intracranial pressure and leads to hydrocephalus. If patients do not undergo surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, the mortality rate is very high.


In the past, scientists have long known that a transcription factor Atoh1 is involved in medulloblatoma, but they have never understood the reason why. This question has always bothered scientists at the Institute Curie, but they were unable to understand the relationship using animal experiment models. Five years ago, as part of an exchange activity between Taiwan and France, a French team started cooperating with NYMU Institute of Brain Science. With Dr. Tsai’s specialty in neural stem cell research, they were able to successfully track the development of medulloblastoma in mice via a “cerebellar electroporation” method. They were able to witness how neural stem cells turn cancerous under the microscope, and thus were able to solve a mystery that had long puzzled the scientific community.


Dr. Tsai presenting his team’s results


Dr. Tsai remarked that during the development of children’s brain, cerebellar neural stem cells continue to divide and differentiate in order to form normal cerebellar tissue. The team observed that the most special feature of these stem cells is that they have primary cilia, which allows the cells to receive external signal and trigger a series of molecular pathway. The process allows cells to continue to divide and form cerebellar cells. Dr. Chang, the first author of the publication, saw for the first time how the Atoh1 transcription factor affected cerebellar cell development. He accidentally discovered that over expression of Atoh1 would cause over activation of the cilia, which then led to excessive stem cell division and thence cancer.


Tsai remarked that Mrs. Curie, who studied for many years radioactive elements, and thus suffered long-term exposure to radiation, died from cancer in her later years. Therefore, France founded the Institut Curie to focus on tumor research. NYMU has excellent brain science research and cutting edge technology and the two institutes have contributed their own strengths in order to create this major breakthrough in science. Now as the mechanism behind the pathogenesis of cerebellar tumors is known, if the pathway can be turned off in the future, there will be a chance to stop cerebellar neural stem cells becoming cancerous and this will lead new opportunities for brain tumor treatment.



  Dr. Tsai's team and Institut Curie have cooperated for five years Dr. Chang (left) and Dr. Tsai


Dr. Tsai and Olivier Ayault are the corresponding authors of the paper and Professor Wang and Professor Chen from the NYMU Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology also participated in the research. Dr. Chang, MD of National Yang-Ming University obtained a Master's degree in Brain Sciences and a PhD of the “Program in Molecular Medicine” organized by NYMU and Academia Sinica. He is an excellent researcher who has been cultivated by the NYMU School of Medicine “Physician Scientist Program.”


The research was supported by grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology “Partenariat Hubert Curien Orchid Program”, Ministry of Education “Higher Education Sprout Project” and the NYMU School of Medicine “Development and Construction Plan”, and this symbolizes the excellent research cooperation between Taiwan and France.


Technical exchanges between French Institut Curie and National Yang Ming University Institute of Brain Science