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.

Promising news for treating aggressive breast cancers

Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) have found a new anti-cancer agent called ABT-737 that targets and neutralises Bcl-2 “pro-survival” proteins in cancer cells.

The project was undertaken at WEHI’s world-class cancer centre, which has received significant ACRF funding over the last five years.

This funding allowed researchers to better study the characteristics of proteins from the Bcl-2 family which are found at high levels in up to 70% of breast cancers – including typically aggressive ‘triple negative’ breast cancers – and work to prevent cell death, even in cells that have been damaged by chemotherapy. Continue reading “Promising news for treating aggressive breast cancers”

Stem cell breakthrough – great news for cancer patients

CI_logoSydney researchers this week revealed a stem cell research breakthrough that will have a massive impact for cancer sufferers requiring bone marrow transplants.

Publishing the results in the esteemed biotechnology journal Nature Biotechnology, lead author Professor John Rasko and his team from Centenary Institute have found, for the first time, a way of growing an increasing number of blood-forming stem cells outside the body.

Patients who receive stem cell transplants for various conditions or treatments, including leukaemia or chemotherapy, could soon expect significantly improved outcomes thanks to the landmark finding by the research team at the Centenary Institute, Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital and the University of Sydney.

Stem cell transplants are vital for treating cancer patients who have had their bone marrow destroyed by chemotherapy. Continue reading “Stem cell breakthrough – great news for cancer patients”

Breast cancer stem cell discovery follows $5 million grant from ACRF

walter_eliza_building1Scientists at the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) are now able to explain the links between breast cancer risk and exposure to female hormones, paving the way for breast cancer preventions and treatments.

The research, led by Dr Jane Visvader and Dr Geoff Lindeman, was partially supported by a $5 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). The new discovery was published in the international journal Nature on 12 April 2010.

The research team at the Institute discovered that breast stem cells, despite lacking receptors for oestrogen and progesterone, are still extra sensitive to sustain exposure to the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Continue reading “Breast cancer stem cell discovery follows $5 million grant from ACRF”