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Child brain cancer redefined as 10 different diseases

02 October 2017

By Dr Molly Godfrey

Appeared in BioNews 920

Deadly childhood brain tumours are highly diverse and can be divided into 10 different subtypes, according to new research.

High-grade gliomas are highly aggressive cancers and responsible for the greatest number of childhood cancer-related deaths due to a lack of effective therapies. This reclassification could lead to more personalised and successful treatments by taking into account the genetic makeup of the tumours.

Study leader Professor Chris Jones from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, said: 'Our study uncovered a wealth of new information about children's brain cancers. We found that tumours that have historically been lumped together under one diagnosis are in fact comprised of many, remarkably different, diseases.'

Scientists from the ICR examined 1067 cases of high-grade gliomas in children and young adults and classified them according to clinical and molecular markers. These included age of onset, appearance and location of the tumours, and the number and type of genetic mutations. They found that these cancers, previously classified together, were in fact highly divergent.

'Treating cancer based only on what we see down the microscope simply isn't good enough any more. We need to start thinking about these as completely different cancers and diagnosing and treating them based on their genetic faults,' said Professor Jones.

One of the most relevant findings from the study was the genetic diversity of these cancers – for instance, some children's tumours were driven by a single genetic mutation, while a small subset had tens of thousands of genetic errors. Promisingly, some mutations were identified for which drug targets have already been developed (to treat adult cancers), and numerous new potential therapeutic targets within each subtype were also discovered.

'It's exciting that several types look like they could be clearly treatable using either existing drugs on the market or other treatments under development,' said Professor Jones.

The study was published in Cancer Cell.

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