Updated on 15 April 2013
Majority childhood brain tumor causing gene identified
Singapore: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project has identified mutations responsible for more than half of a subtype of childhood brain tumor that takes a high toll on patients. Researchers also found evidence the tumors are susceptible to drugs already in development.
The study focused on a family of brain tumors known as low-grade gliomas (LGGs). These slow-growing cancers are found in about 700 children annually in the U.S., making them the most common childhood tumors of the brain and spinal cord. For patients whose tumors cannot be surgically removed, the long-term outlook remains bleak due to complications from the disease and its ongoing treatment. Nationwide, surgery alone cures only about one-third of patients.
Using whole genome sequencing, researchers identified genetic alterations in two genes that occurred almost exclusively in a subtype of LGG termed diffuse LGG. This subtype cannot be cured surgically because the tumor cells invade the healthy brain. Together, the mutations accounted for 53 percent of the diffuse LGG in this study. Researchers also demonstrated that one of the mutations, which had not previously been linked to brain tumors, caused tumors when introduced into the glial brain cells of mice.
"This subtype of low-grade glioma can be a nasty chronic disease, yet prior to this study we knew almost nothing about its genetic alterations," said Dr. David Ellison, chair of the St. Jude Department of Pathology and the study's corresponding author. The first author is Jinghui Zhang, Ph.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Computational Biology.
The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project is using next-generation whole genome sequencing to determine the complete normal and cancer genomes of children and adolescents with some of the least understood and most difficult to treat cancers. Scientists believe that studying differences in the 3 billion chemical bases that make up the human genome will provide the scientific foundation for the next generation of cancer care.
"We were surprised to find that many of these tumors could be traced to a single genetic alteration," said co-author Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of The Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "This is a major pathway through which low-grade gliomas develop and it provides new clues to explore as we search for better treatments."