Possible cause of world’s most common childhood cancer, discovered

Cancer scientistsResearchers from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have discovered a possible cause of medulloblastoma, one of the world’s most common childhood cancers.

Cancer scientists have found mature cells in the brain can revert to basic stem cells and initiate cancer – a process previously thought not to be possible.

Trials undertaken in the fruit fly, which shares around 70 per cent common cancer genes with humans, found mature cells, in the absence of a key gene, revert into rapidly dividing stem cells that can cause brain tumours.

Dr Louise Cheng, Head of the Stem Cell Growth Regulation Laboratory at Peter Mac and lead author on the study, said, ‘It was thought that, once matured, brain cells or neurons could not go backwards and become stem cells again — but we found this process is in fact reversible.

“In our fruit fly model, we found that once a gene called Nerfin-1, which keeps neurons locked in a mature, non-dividing state, is lost, the neurons revert to an out-of-control stem cell state, rapidly initiating cancer and quickly becoming brain tumours.”

These findings are significant as medulloblastoma patients often have a faulty version of the human equivalent of this Nerfin-1 gene, called INSM1.

“INSM1 is frequently mutated in people with medulloblastoma and we believe preserving the protective role of INSM1 could prevent the reversion of mature neurons into stem cells, and stop cancer initiation in the brain,” said Dr Cheng.

“This is particularly important in the current treatment context where chemotherapy is used to target rapidly dividing cells, but does not kill non-dividing, mature cells, which we now know can be a cause of medulloblastoma, potentially explaining why chemotherapy is not always successful in treating brain cancers in the long term.”

This discovery that non-dividing cells may also cause cancer now opens the door for cancer scientists to develop of new targeted therapies and drugs with the potential to block this reversion of non-dividing cells and eliminate cancer-causing stem cell populations altogether.

This information was originally published on the Peter MacCallum website and can be found here.

Australian researchers uncover a new gene in the battle against neuroblastoma

tao-research-mainResearchers at the ACRF-funded Children’s Cancer Institute Australia have made an important discovery in the battle against neuroblastoma – one of the most aggressive forms of childhood cancer.

The Institute’s work, published in the prestigious US Journal of the National Cancer Institute, has uncovered a gene linked to the cause of neuroblastoma that could lead to the development of new targeted therapy and change the way the cancer is treated.

It shows that a new long noncoding or ‘junk’ RNA (a type of molecule) plays a critical part in neuroblastoma tumour formation. This study, led by Dr Tao Liu, Group Leader for Histone Modification at CCI, is the first time that it have been discovered that a long noncoding RNA can impact the progression of neuroblastoma.

This discovery could help develop new treatments for the disease, which has a much smaller survival rate compared to other childhood cancers. Currently, neuroblastoma is often diagnosed once the cancer is already advanced and has a survival rate of only 50%.

“Dr Liu’s study has improved our understanding of what leads to the development of neuroblastoma, and uncovered another potential target for this rare but devastating disease,” said Children’s Cancer Institute’s Head of Translational Research, Prof Glenn Marshall AM.

“Side-effects associated with conventional chemotherapy used to treat kids with cancer are a significant clinical problem. Research results such as these will help us discover new treatments, specifically designed for children, to ensure they experience the highest possible quality of life – and support further work to uncover other junk DNA targets for cancer therapy.”

Watch the ABC News report on this important discovery.

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70% of cancer patients have new hope through WEHI discovery

A discovery led by Australian researchers at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) has given new hope to those suffering from certain types of lymphomas as well as other types of blood cancers and some solid tumours.

For these types of cancers, which are driven by a cancer-causing protein, ‘MYC’, Dr Gemma Kelly, Dr Marco Herold, Professor Andreas Strasser and their research team at WEHI have uncovered a promising treatment strategy.

MYC affects up to 70 per cent of human cancers, including many leukaemias and lymphomas. It is responsible for cancerous changes in cells by forcing them into abnormally rapid growth. But the WEHI research team have discovered that MYC activity is co-dependent on another protein, called MCL-1.

Continue reading “70% of cancer patients have new hope through WEHI discovery”

Aussie researchers find genetic cause to the most common form of childhood cancer

Australian researchers have uncovered the first ever genetic marker specific to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer.

Cancer scientists at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) and Sydney Children’s Hospital, along with a worldwide team of researchers, discovered the genetic link by studying families in which multiple cases of ALL have been diagnosed.

Dr David Ziegler, Clinical Research Fellow at CCIA, paediatric oncologist at Sydney Children’s Hospital and lead Australian author of the research paper said, “Leukaemia cells often contain many different genetic mutations, making it difficult to detect which ones actually cause the leukaemia.”

Continue reading “Aussie researchers find genetic cause to the most common form of childhood cancer”

Childhood neuroblastoma treatment enhanced with high blood pressure ‘beta-blockers’

An ‘old’ drug which is normally used to treat high blood pressure in adults could bring new hope to children with Neuroblastoma, researchers from the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia have discovered.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from nerve cells left over from a baby’s development in the womb, predominantly affecting very young children – between 0 and 5 years old.

But researchers conducting pre-clinical trials at CCIA (a world-class facility that the ACRF is proud to have funded via a $3.1m grant) have combined standard chemotherapy with beta-blockers to successfully enhance the effectiveness of the chemotherapy – paving the way towards better treatment outcomes, and decreased treatment doses for these young children. Their study has been published in the prestigious British Journal of Cancer. Continue reading “Childhood neuroblastoma treatment enhanced with high blood pressure ‘beta-blockers’”

Aussie scientists lead the way in improving Leukaemia survival rates

A ten-year clinical trial has seen survival rates in children with the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), double to 70%.

The study gives new hope to children with a high-risk of relapse, based on the results of a novel test developed by scientists at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) – a recipient of over $3.2 million in ACRF funding.

The test works by detecting Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) in the bone marrow of children with ALL. It identifies patients who (despite appearances) are not responding to treatment as well as others, allowing clinicians to reassess their treatment options and maximise the patient’s chance of a full recovery.

“The MRD test can detect one leukaemia cell among 100,000 healthy cells in the bone marrow, and this allows clinicians to tailor a child’s treatment,” said Professor Glenn Marshall, Head of Translational Research at CCIA (and Director of the Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick). Continue reading “Aussie scientists lead the way in improving Leukaemia survival rates”

Research news: spring 2012 edition

Current cancer researchIn the Spring edition of the Research Review:

  • Researchers have found a target for treating up to 50% of childhood cancer cases.
  • An ambitious Melanoma Genome Project has launched, with the aim of identifying all common mutations within melanoma cancers.
  • The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has officially opened the world-class Kinghorn Cancer Centre in Sydney.

New childhood cancer research could help prevent 50% of cases

A new discovery could lead to preventative treatments for embryonal cancer cells which are responsible for more than half of all childhood cancers.

Typically, only 20% of the embryonal cells created in the womb survive after birth to form nerve tissue in a baby’s body. The rest die off before the child is born.

However, sometimes excess cells survive and develop into cancers.

Under the leadership of Professor Glenn Marshall, Head of Translational Research and Molecular Carcinogenesis at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA), researchers have investigated this occurrence, focusing on the most common solid tumour cancer in early childhood – neuroblastoma. Continue reading “New childhood cancer research could help prevent 50% of cases”

Childhood cancer on notice

Official opening of the new ACRF Drug Discovery Centre

iStock_000000735381XSmall_two-hands-clasping-in-hospital-300x235“Tonight, together, we have put childhood cancer on notice.

“Tonight, we have glimpsed a not to distant future where no child who has cancer need suffer,” declared Bob Muscat, chairman of the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia at the August 19 launch of the $3.1m ACRF Drug Discovery Centre.

Mr Muscat joined University of New South Wales chancellor David Gonski, Children’s Cancer Institute Australia executive director Michelle Haber, CCIA founder Jack Kassas, and Australian Cancer Research Foundation chairman Tom Dery to officially open the new ACRF-funded facilities at the CCIA, part of the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW.

The ACRF Drug Discovery Centre will develop new and improved treatments for childhood cancers.

It houses customised technology that enables one year’s medical research to be done in just a few days. Continue reading “Childhood cancer on notice”