Gene faults linked to common type of brain tumour

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists in the United States have created a comprehensive gene map that throws light on the causes of a common form of brain tumour known as oligodendroglioma.

Researchers from the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University used advanced sequencing technology to look for gene faults in seven tumour samples. They found that two genes called CIC and FUBP1 were often faulty, according to work published in the journal Science.

The genes are known to play a part in cell signalling - the mechanism by which cells communicate with each other. And faults in CIC have been found in a small number of sarcoma, breast and prostate cancers.

To confirm the results, the team then looked in a further 27 tumours, and showed that two-thirds of the samples also contained differences in the CIC and FUBP1 genes.

Professor Nickolas Papadopoulos, from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, said: "Whenever we find genes mutated in a majority of tumours, it is likely that the pathway regulated by that gene is critical for the development and biology of the tumour."

Cells in the human body contain 23 chromosomes, each containing thousands of genes that produce proteins. Scientists have long known that up to 70 per cent of oligodendrogliomas have faults on chromosomes 1 and 19, and that patients with these faults tend to respond better to treatment.

For more than a decade, scientists have been looking for other gene faults that also contribute to disease. According to one of the team, Chetan Bettegowda at Johns Hopkins, the next step will be to test whether patients with CIC and FUBP1 mutations have the same favourable prognosis as those who have the chromosome 1 and 19 faults.

"We can focus now on when these mutations develop during tumour formation, whether they can guide prognosis, and how they might form targets for therapy," says Bettegowda.

Professor Kenneth Kinzler, of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins, said: "Thanks to the Human Genome Project and advances in cancer genome sequencing, a single study can now resolve decade-old questions and reveal the genetics of this brain cancer.

"Knowing the genetic roadmap of a cancer is the key to attacking it."

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "These results show how rapid improvements in technology are giving scientists important new insights into the causes of cancer. We urgently need more effective treatments for brain tumours, so we hope that these findings will form the foundation for better ways to detect and treat people with this common type of brain tumour in the future."

Copyright Press Association 2011