VIB: New Angle to Combat Malignant Brain Tumors in Children

Published: Feb 28, 2013

February 28, 2013 -- A medulloblastoma is a malignant brain tumor that occurs primarily in children and is currently untreatable. Peter Carmeliet and his team (VIB-KU Leuven) joined forces with scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Harvard to study the role of the placental growth factor (PIGF) in the growth of this brain tumor. They demonstrated that blocking PIGF inhibits the growth and metastasis of this cancer. This creates hope for a new therapy for the treatment of children with a medulloblastoma, with fewer side effects than the current treatments.


A medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumor in children. The treatment of this tumor consists of the surgical (partial) removal of the tumor, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this treatment is associated with very harmful (permanent) side effects as a result of severe brain damage. There is an urgent need for a new therapy on the one hand for children for whom the current treatments have failed and on the other hand due to the harmful consequences of the current treatments.

Placental growth factor

Peter Carmeliet has studied the placental growth factor PIGF for several years now. PIGF plays a critical role in the growth of blood vessels in a tumor. PIFG enables blood vessels to grow towards the tumor cells to supply the tumor with oxygen and nutrients. To date, the role of PIGF in the development of a medulloblastoma has been unknown.

In collaboration with foreign scientists, Peter Carmeliet and his team studied the role of PIGF in various types of medulloblastoma in mice. The scientists demonstrated that PIGF is expressed in the majority of all medulloblastomas and that PIGF is essential for the survival of these tumors. The clinical importance of PIGF was also confirmed in patients with a medulloblastoma.

All these findings suggest that blocking PIGF could be of therapeutic importance. Studies in mice where PIGF was blocked with an antibody against PIGF resulted in delayed tumor growth, decreased metastasis to the spinal cord and a longer life expectancy.

Therapeutic potential

The therapeutic potential of PIGF inhibitors in medulloblastoma requires further study. As PIGF only plays a role in the stimulation of blood vessel formation in diseases (such as cancer), the inhibition of this growth factor will have fewer harmful consequences than the current therapies. The current therapies block the most important angiogenic growth factor (VEGF), which also affects blood vessels in healthy tissue and causes side effects. In addition, due to their negative side effects (stopping growth) VEGF inhibitors cannot be used on children with cancers, whereas PIGF inhibitors can be used. VIB has licensed the rights for clinical development of anti-PIGF inhibitors to ThromboGenics N.V.


As this research can raise many questions, we would like to refer you to the e-mail address that VIB has made available for this purpose. Anyone with questions about this medical research can contact

Relevant scientific publication

The research will be published in the leading journal Cell (Snuderl et al., Placental growth factor/neuropilin 1 signaling is a therapeutic target in pediatric medullobastoma)

Research team

This research was performed in the laboratory of Peter Carmeliet, director of VIB Vesalius Research Centre, KU Leuven.


When reporting on this research, please mention all partners involved.


VIB is a non-profit research institute in the life sciences in Flanders, Belgium, with 1200 scientists conducting strategic basic research on the molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the functioning of the human body, plants, and micro-organisms. Through a partnership with four Flemish universities – Ghent University, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the University of Antwerp, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel - and a solid funding program, VIB unites the forces of 72 research groups in a single institute. Through its technology transfer activities, VIB strives to convert the research results into products for the benefit of consumers and patients. VIB develops and disseminates a wide range of scientifically substantiated information about all aspects of biotechnology. For more information, please visit

KU Leuven

The University of Leuven is Belgium’s largest university and one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1425. It is a comprehensive university with 14 faculties, with a long tradition of high-quality interdisciplinary research and teaching. The University of Leuven has over 33,000 students (12 percent international) and over 17,000 staff members (8,600 in the various university departments and 8,700 at UZ Leuven, the university hospital). More info

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