Friday 02 April 2010
Cancer Research UK-funded scientists have identified two genes linked to Wilms’ tumour – a type of childhood kidney cancer according to research published in Clinical Cancer Research today (Friday)*.
The two genes, called MYCN and FBXW7, provide an important insight into how the disease develops and could lead to new treatments for children with a more aggressive form of Wilms’ tumour.
Wilms’ tumour is the most common form of kidney cancer in children. Each year 80 children are diagnosed with the disease in the UK and around 90 per cent can be successfully treated.
Researchers led by Professor Kathy Pritchard-Jones at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found the two genes by scanning the chromosomes – the structure that contains all of our genetic material – of Wilms’ tumours from nearly 100 children with the disease. They were looking for alterations in the number of copies of thousands of genes that could help them to work out if these genes were linked to a particular type of the disease.
They found that children with a Wilms’ tumour who have an increased number of copies of the gene MYCN are more likely to have high risk forms of the disease**.
Between five and 10 per cent of children with Wilms’ tumour have the high risk form of the disease which is more likely to spread or return after initial treatment and is currently very difficult to treat successfully.
Professor Kathy Pritchard-Jones said: “We hope that these findings could open new avenues for treatment and also help target treatments to those children with the more aggressive forms of Wilms’ tumour – the type that’s more likely to return.
“Although treatment for most children with the disease is successful, we now have a useful marker to help us identify those with the high risk form of the disease. Further research is needed before we can use this marker to target stronger treatment to these children, but this is our aim.”
The researchers also found that around four per cent of Wilms’ tumour patients have mistakes in their tumour’s FBXW7 gene. These mutations are associated with a particular type of Wilms’ tumour that is normally successfully treated. This finding could help doctors to tailor treatments to each patient.
It is known that the FBXW7 gene is involved in the breakdown of MYCN, so this new discovery in Wilms’ tumour identifies an exciting new treatment target. There are already treatments in development for neuroblastomas** that target the MYCN gene and these same drugs could be used for Wilms’ tumours that return.
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Our knowledge of the specific gene defects that cause Wilms’ tumours is limited, we only know the defects for less than half of all tumours, so this work is essential to understand more about the disease.
“This research could be an important step in discovering new treatments for children whose cancer is harder to treat. Cancer Research UK is the largest single funder of children’s cancer research in the country and we’re committed to ensuring more children are cured.”
For media enquiries please contact Simon Shears in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8054 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to Editors:
* Pritchard-Jones, K., et al Subtype-specific FBXW7 mutation and MYCN copy number gain in Wilms’ tumour (2010) Clinical Cancer Research.
** This gene is also linked to aggressive forms of other childhood cancers, especially neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system.
Cancer Research UK
- Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
- The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.
- Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.
- Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)
- The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
- The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
- The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
- The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 95 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
- As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
- Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
- The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic cancer drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years
For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk