Scientists at The University of Nottingham have uncovered a vital new biological clue that could lead to more effective treatments for a children’s brain tumour that currently kills more than 60 per cent of young sufferers.
Clinician –scientists at the University’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre, working on behalf of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG), have studied the role of the WNT biological pathway in central nervous system primitive neuroectodermal tumours (CNS PNET), a type of brain tumour that predominantly occurs in children and presently has a very poor prognosis.
In a paper published in the British Journal of Cancer, they have shown that in over one-third of cases, the pathway is ‘activated’, suggesting that it plays a role in tumour development. The research also highlighted a link between WNT pathway activation and patient survival — patients who had a CNS PNET tumour that was activated survived for longer than those without pathway activation.
The reason for the link between WNT pathway activation and better patient prognosis is as yet unclear. It could be that these tumours represent a less aggressive subset or that pathway activation itself actually harms the tumour. However, the pathway could represent an important new target for the treatment of more effective drugs, with fewer side effects.
Senior author Professor Richard Grundy, from the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre, said: “The principal aim of our research is to reduce the morbidity and mortality of children with central nervous system tumours through improved understanding of tumour biology. Following on from this, we need to translate this knowledge into effective new treatments for brain tumours through the development and assessment of accurately targeted treatments that will cause fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy or radiotherapy and be more effective. The ultimate aim is to develop ‘drugs’ that target just the abnormal genes in cancer cells, rather than the current norm which involves the indiscriminate destruction of dividing cells which might be healthy or malignant. Overall, this is an important finding in a poorly understood, poor prognosis disease, which we hope, in time, will lead to the development of new treatments for CNS PNETs.
“We hope our findings will lead to a more detailed understanding of CNS PNETS, which 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.”
In total, around 450 children and young adults under 18 years are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year in the UK. Overall, 60 per cent of children with the cancer in the UK can be successfully treated, but survival for CNS PNETs is less than 40 per cent.
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Notes to editors:
• Funding was provided by the Connie and Albert Taylor Trust, The Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, the Brain Tumour Research Fund Birmingham Children’s Hospital Special Trustees.
• The paper, An Investigation of WNT Pathway Activation and Association with Survival in Central Nervous System Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumours (CNS PNET) by HA Rogers, S Miller, J Lowe, M-A Brundler, B Coyle and RG Grundy is published in the latest edition of the British Journal of Cancer.
About the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group
Cancer Research UK is the major funding provider of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group and funds the UK clinical trials work of the group in 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.
British Journal of Cancer
The BJC is owned by Cancer Research UK. Its 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. www.bjcancer.com.
The University of Nottingham
The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's ‘only truly global university’, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.