New childhood brain cancer genes identified

Cancer Research UK

Scientists have isolated three important genes involved in the development of a type of childhood brain cancer - reveals a study published in the British Journal of Cancer* today (Tuesday).

Researchers from the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Nottingham, on behalf of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG)**, have found three genes associated with specific characteristics of ependymoma - the third most common form of childhood brain cancer.

Before now, relatively little was known about the underlying biology of this disease. The results of this study provide a more detailed understanding of the genetics behind ependymoma, which could help scientists develop targeted drugs to treat the disease more successfully, and with fewer side effects.

Around 35 children are diagnosed with ependymoma each year in the UK, and around half of these will be under three years old. In total, around 300 children under 15 are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year in the UK.

Overall, three quarters of children with cancer in the UK can be successfully treated, but survival for ependymoma is just 50 per cent. And around half the children who are initially successfully treated will suffer a relapse of the disease.

Lead author Professor Richard Grundy from the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre at the Queen's Medical Centre, University of Nottingham, said: "Understanding the biological causes of cancer is vitally important as it will help us to develop drugs that target abnormal genes in cancer cells but not in healthy cells, which is what traditional chemotherapy treatments do. More accurately targeted treatments will cause fewer side-effects than conventional chemotherapy and be more effective. So this is an important finding which we hope will lead to the development of new treatments for ependymoma."

The team analysed the genome wide expression pattern of ependymoma identifying three genes with distinct profiles. They confirmed the involvement of these different genes in 74 samples of ependymoma. From this they discovered that a gene called SI00A4 was strongly associated with tumours in very young children. SI00A6 was a marker of a tumour in a specific part of the brain and high levels of CHI3L1 was common in cancers showing a larger degree of cell death.

The genes discovered are all located on a section of Chromosome 1 that this research group had previously linked to poor survival for ependymomas.

Professor Grundy continued: "We hope our findings will lead to a more detailed understanding of ependymoma. This is crucial if we are to ensure each child receives the most appropriate treatment for their disease and that we reduce the number of children in which their cancer recurs."

Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, which is the major funding provider of the CCLG, said: "Relatively little is known about the causes of childhood cancer, so this is an important study. Overall survival rates for children's cancers have been rapidly improving - thanks in part to international clinical trials - but it’s crucial that research like this takes place to improve treatments even further."

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

This study was funded by the Joseph Foote Charity.

* Investigation of chromosome 1q reveals differential expression of members of the S100 family in clinical subgroups of intracranial paediatric ependymoma. Rand et al. 2008. British Journal of Cancer.

** The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group

Cancer Research UK is the major funding provider of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (formally the UK Children's Cancer Study Group) and funds the UK clinical trials work of the group via its coordinating centre in Leicester and 21 paediatric centres throughout the British Isles.

The Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group is the national professional body responsible for the organisation, treatment and management of virtually all children with cancer in the UK. The group is acknowledged as one of the world's leading childhood cancer clinical trial groups who have made a significant contribution to the international success in treating childhood cancer, resulting in improvements in survival.

About the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre

Established in 1997, the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre brings together a multi-disciplinary team of leading healthcare professionals and researchers ” all experts in their fields, and all committed to improving our understanding of childhood brain tumours. More information is available here.

About the British Journal of Cancer (BJC)

The BJC's mission is to encourage communication of the very best cancer research from laboratories and clinics in all countries. Broad coverage, its editorial independence and consistent high standards have made BJC one of the world's premier general cancer journals. The BJC is owned by the charity Cancer Research UK.

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