Scientists at The University of Nottingham have found that a biological pathway plays a role in the development of a type of brain tumour that predominantly occurs in children, and presently has a very poor prognosis.
Working on behalf of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG), the researchers have found that the WNT biological pathway is "activated" in over one-third of the cases of central nervous system primitive neuroectodermal tumours (CNS PNET).
The researchers say that their study also highlighted a link between WNT pathway activation and patient survival, for those having a CNS PNET tumour that was activated survived for longer than those without pathway activation.he researchers admit the fact that the reason for the link between WNT pathway activation and better patient prognosis is as yet unclear, but believe that it could be that these tumours represent a less aggressive subset or that pathway activation itself actually harms the tumour.
According to them, the pathway could represent an important new target for the treatment of more effective drugs, with fewer side effects.
"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," said senior author Professor Richard Grundy, from the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre.
"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," he added.
A research article on the study has been published in the British Journal of Cancer.