Untreatable Brain Cancer in Children Explained

Pediatric glioblastoma and histone mutations

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(RxWiki News) Brain cancer is never a phrase you want to hear, particularly relating to children. Glioblastomas are extremely aggressive, and scientists have had trouble understanding why chemotherapy and radiation seem powerless against it, especially in children.

An international team analyzing the genetics of pediatric glioblastomas found that up to 40 percent of these brain cancers had two mutations in common.

Both mutations were in a protein that normally covers DNA, helping condense and protect it from damage.

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Scientists had theorized that glioblastomas in children were different from those found in adults, but this is the first research illustrating specific mutations. These findings could lead to new treatments against pediatric brain cancer.

Scientists and doctors, working together from hospitals and research institutions in Hiedelberg, Germany and Montreal, Canada, found that the histone gene H3.3 was mutated in glioblastomas, protecting the cancer from radiation or chemotherapy.

Histones are proteins that package DNA, similar to spools of thread. Histones package the DNA, preventing damage from occurring when it is not in use.

Forty eight samples from brain cancer tumors in children were sequenced, and mutations were then compared to a databank of 784 other brain cancers. The findings from this study will help researchers develop new treatments for glioblastomas.

"This research helps explain the ineffectiveness of conventional treatments against cancer in children and adolescents – we've been failing to hit the right spot," said Nada Jabado, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and an oncologist at The Montreal Children's Hospital.

"It is clear now that glioblastoma in children is due to different molecular mechanisms than those in adults, and should not be treated in the same way. Importantly, we now know where to start focusing our efforts and treatments instead of working in the dark," Dr. Jabado concludes.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

The authors of the study declared no competing financial interests.

Last Updated:
February 20, 2012