Last updated March 1, 2018 at 2:29 pm
Using genomics to create tailored treatments for childhood cancers.
Childhood cancers have lower mutation rates and are often driven by a mutation on a single gene specific to a certain disease. Adult cancers, on the other hand, have higher mutation rates, multiple mutations driving the cancer, and mutations shared across cancer types.
These findings were made over two studies, one in which the researchers investigated 24 different types of cancer in 914 young people, and another where they analysed data from nearly 1,700 cases of leukemia and solid tumours.
Four key findings on childhood cancers
Specifically, they found that
- Childhood cancers have fewer mutations and structural variants, and the total number of mutations grows with age
- Frequently, childhood cancers are defined by a single driver gene mutation
- Childhood and adult cancers are caused by mutations on different genes
- While adult cancers are likely to share mutations across cancer types, individual childhood cancer types tend to be linked to specific driver gene mutations
These studies represent a huge leap forward in our knowledge of childhood cancers, which in the developed world remain the leading cause of death by disease for children older than one year of age.
Hope for future treatments
Not only does this further our knowledge of childhood cancers, but it has major implications for treatment. Precision medicine for adult cancers already exists, and these findings mean this type of treatment could be adapted for childhood cancers. 50 per cent of the tumours profiled were driven by mutations that can be targeted by current or near-future drugs.
Additionally, accuracy of detection could be improved by developing methods to find gene mutations specific to childhood cancers.
The researchers call for other scientists to collaborate, either by furthering this line of research or analysing their data (which they have made available here and here). They suggest that future studies should focus on figuring out the mechanisms behind how gene mutations drive childhood cancers.
This research was published in Nature.