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Genetics of common brain cancer revealed by two studies

28 January 2013

By Reuben Harwood

Appeared in BioNews 690

Nearly all cases of meningioma - the commonest kind of brain tumour - can be traced back to a fault in one of just five genes, scientists say.

Around half of all meningioma tumours were already known to be linked to a mutation or deletion of a gene called neurofibromin 2, or NF2. When a team at Yale University School of Medicine in the USA analysed the genomes of 300 meningiomas they identified four other genetic mutations they say explain the non-NF2 cases.

Each of these mutations was linked to the growth of tumours in distinct regions of the brain and the likelihood of a tumour becoming malignant.

Accordingly, senior author Murat Günel, professor of neurosurgery, genetics and neurobiology at Yale said that the study has 'direct clinical relevance and opens the door for personalised therapies'.

One of the mutations identified in the study, on the SMO gene, is already linked to basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, and a drug acting on the SMO gene product is approved as treatment for that disease.

Currently, treatment for meningioma is limited to surgery. Although 90 percent of meningioma tumours are benign they often still require surgery as continued growth can impact brain function and even be life-threatening.

A second, unrelated, study on the genetics of meningioma appeared in Nature Genetics, focusing on two of the mutations identified in the Science paper. Genetic analysis of 65 tumours showed that mutations in the SMO and AKT1 genes occured in a minority of cases.

'The wonderful thing about those mutations is that there are already drugs in the clinic to target cancers with those mutations', said study leader Dr Rameen Beroukhim, from the Dana-Farber and Broad Institutes in Boston, USA.

Talking to Bloomberg News, Dr Beroukhim said that 'the hope is that patients with the mutations may respond to these drugs'. However, Bloomberg's article goes on to note that no clinical trials to test the drugs in meningioma have been scheduled.


18 March 2013 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Stem cells taken from patients' own fat tissue could potentially be used to deliver treatments direct to brain tumours, say scientists after early laboratory tests...
11 February 2013 - by James Brooks 
Scientists led by a team from Oxford University have identified mutations in two genes that lead to a serious skull condition...

22 October 2012 - by Joseph Jebelli 
A study on the most common type of brain cancer in humans has found that expressing cancer genes, also known as oncogenes, in fully developed brain cells can return them to an immature state that results in the formation of tumours...
10 September 2012 - by Matthew Young 
A single-letter change in one gene may considerably increase a person's risk of developing particular forms of brain cancer, say researchers...
30 July 2012 - by Dr Zara Mahmoud 
Some cases of glioblastoma - a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer - may be due a genetic mutation where two separate genes fuse into one, scientists report...
15 May 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Stem cells transplanted into the brain may offer protection against the side effects of chemotherapy, say US researchers...

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