Research published in the EMBO Journal shows that mutations in stem cells have a significant causal role in the development of brain tumours, previously thought to be linked to abnormalities in mature cells . The research was undertaken by scientists at the UCL Institute of Child Health (ICH) and Institute of Neurology (ION) and in collaboration with colleagues at The University of California San Francisco (UCSF).
The authors hope that their findings will help to inform future treatments in the field. Brain tumours account for approximately one third of all childhood cancer deaths in the UK each year.
Dr Thomas Jacques, a clinician scientist and neuropathologist at the ICH and a lead author of the study said: “Our study shows how events that occur at the very beginning of the tumour's development determine what type of tumour develops much later on. The key event seems to occur in a kind of stem cell that can be found in normal brains. When abnormal, these stem cells can give rise to the commonest types of brain tumour. These insights provide the opportunity to understand how brain tumours develop and they will hopefully help to identify new approaches to treat patients with this disease"
Professor Sebastian Brandner, Head of the Division of Neuropathology at the ION jointly led the research. He added, "This finding is absolutely novel in the field in brain cancer research. It opens new doors to the understanding of the origin of brain tumours and what influences their behaviour. We now understand better how these tumours form and we can investigate further what leads from a rogue stem cell to a brain tumour. This model will give us new opportunities to develop strategies to fight brain cancer. "
The study was published in the EMBO Journal on 19 November 2009.
The research was funded in the UK by The Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, The Brain Research Trust UK and Ali's Dream Charitable Foundation.
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