Eight gene mutations appear to cause childhood brain cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Canadian scientists have identified eight genes that appear to be involved in the development of the most common form of childhood brain cancer, medulloblastoma, when faulty.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Genetics and are "very promising", according to Dr Christine Williams, director of research programmes at the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute.

Researchers identified the faulty genes after analysing tumour samples from more than 200 children from several different countries.

 

- Henry Scowcroft, science information manager, Cancer Research UK

None of the faulty genes identified in the study had previously been suspected as being involved in the development of cancer.

Dr Williams said that the discovery could lead to "better, more targeted treatments" that improve survival and cause fewer side-effects.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Taylor, a paediatric brain surgeon at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children who is funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, explained: "When these eight genes are functioning normally, we believe their role is to make a protein which tells the developing brain when it's time to stop growing.

"But when the genes are mutated, the brain may continue to grow out of control, leading to cancer."

Dr Taylor noted that scientists are already working to develop drugs that target these types of proteins.

"Our hope is that some of these drugs may be adapted and used effectively to treat medulloblastomas."

Henry Scowcroft, Science Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "This takes us a step closer to understanding the causes of medulloblastoma. We hope this knowledge will one day lead to new treatments, or help doctors identify children at risk of this disease."

Medulloblastoma is the most common type of brain tumour in children.

There are about 51 cases of medulloblastoma in children aged 0-14 each year in Great Britain.

References

 Northcott, P., Nakahara, Y., Wu, X., Feuk, L., Ellison, D., Croul, S., Mack, S., Kongkham, P., Peacock, J., Dubuc, A., Ra, Y., Zilberberg, K., Mcleod, J., Scherer, S., Sunil Rao, J., Eberhart, C., Grajkowska, W., Gillespie, Y., Lach, B., Grundy, R., Pollack, I., Hamilton, R., Van Meter, T., Carlotti, C., Boop, F., Bigner, D., Gilbertson, R., Rutka, J., & Taylor, M. (2009). Multiple recurrent genetic events converge on control of histone lysine methylation in medulloblastoma Nature Genetics DOI: 10.1038/ng.336