Breakthrough made in child cancer


Apr 20, 2007

Scientists in Edinburgh have made a significant discovery which could help treat a rare kidney cancer that mostly affects young children.

Wilms' Tumour affects about 70 toddlers across the UK every year.

A team at Edinburgh University has found out how to block the activity of a particular gene known to play a role in the development of the condition.

Dr Jamie Davies, who is leading the research, said the team now hoped to be able to treat and reverse the changes.

He told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The work, which has been funded by the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR), has enabled us, and our colleagues, to find out the exact time the cancer begins in kidney development and to actually watch the process in the lab.

"That is our little breakthrough.

"What we now want to see is if we can treat and reverse the changes."

Previous studies found that damage to a specific gene during the development of the foetus in the womb was linked to the cancer.

However, scientists had found it impossible to use normal genetic techniques, which inactivate genes from conception, to investigate how the tumour forms and how the cancer could be treated.

The team recently discovered a crucial time during the development of the kidney when loss of the WT1 gene activity causes cells to multiply in an uncontrolled way, as is found in Wilms' tumour.

'Fundamental research'

Dr Davies said: "This suggested that loss of WT1 on its own is enough to start a tumour developing, if it happens during this key development stage.

"It also provides a system that researchers can use to investigate how this uncontrolled multiplication may be prevented."

The St Andrews-based AICR believes the work paves the way for further investigation.

The charity's scientific consultant, Dr Mark Matfield, said: "To develop specific, effective treatments for rare cancers, we need to understand how they are caused and the mechanisms that make the cells divide.

"Fundamental research like this is going to open up new avenues of research which may well lead on to new therapeutic developments."

Wilms' tumour is said to be named after Dr Max Wilms, the German surgeon who first identified the cancer.