Hope for children fighting cancer in Trinity discovery
A SIGNIFICANT advance in the understanding of a childhood cancer called Neuroblastoma has been made by scientists at Trinity College Dublin.
The discovery about the functioning of a specific gene could lead to improved treatments for gravely ill children.
The research group at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at the university is led by Dr Adrian Bracken and funded by Science Foundation Ireland.
Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in children younger than two years. It is a cancer of special nerve cells called neuroblasts, which are found throughout the body. Normally, these immature cells mature into functioning nerve cells. However, in Neuroblastoma, they fail to mature and become cancer cells.
Currently, the parents of eight-year-old Dublin girl Robyn Smyth, who has suffered a relapse of the disease, are fundraising to bring her abroad for treatment. Robyn's mother, Bernadette Dornan, warmly welcomed the announcement of the advances being made by the Dublin research team.
The new research explored the function of CHD5. This gene is deleted in children with the worst form of Neuroblastoma.
Chris Egan, the lead author on the study and a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr Bracken, together with colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, showed that without CHD5, neuroblasts are incapable of maturing to mature neurons.
Commenting on the study, Dr Adrian Bracken said: "Understanding the role of genes whose deletion or inactivation is associated with disease is central to designing intelligent therapeutic strategies.
"Our work has unravelled the normal function of the CHD5 gene, and suggests that its inactivation in neuroblastoma leads to an inability of these cells to correctly mature or differentiate.
"Our future work will assess the potential benefit of reactivating CHD5 in neuroblastoma cells which usually retain one silenced copy of this gene."
The team published findings in the leading international journal, Developmental Cell.
Bernadette Dornan told the Herald: "I need help now for my daughter but all advances in fighting the disease are badly needed. It's great news what they are doing at Trinity. Hopefully, their work will benefit children and their families."