A collaborative research effort between Trinity College Dublin and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Stockholm has made a major breakthrough in the battle against neuroblastoma, a cancer that specifically affects children, and accounts for 15% of cancer deaths in children.
Neuroblastoma targets an average of ten Irish children every year, and is the most common cancer diagnosis for children under two years old. A cancer that affects the nervous system, Neuroblastoma attacks special nerve cells called neuroblasts.
The research looked closely at the role of the CHD5 tumor suppressor during normal system development. CHD5 is a gene often inactive in the most severe forms of neuroblastoma, preventing immature neuroblasts from developing and causing them to become cancer cells.
The joint research team discovered that CHD5 is a requisite gene for the cellular transition from a stem cell to a mature neuron.
This research could lead to new ways to treat neuroblastoma, potentially with currently approved drugs.
Current treatment for neuroblastoma can be very aggressive, reports TheJournal.ie, "One treatment is retinoic acid, a drug that can drive neuronal maturation. Unresponsiveness to retinoic acid can be common in more malignant CHD5-negative neuroblastoma cells."
With the new research into the gene, however, scientists figure that if CHD5 could be re-activated, it may increase responsiveness to the retinoic acid treatment.
Dr. Adrian Bracken, who heads the research group, said that "understanding the role of genes whose deletion or inactivation is associated with disease is central to designing intelligent therapeutic strategies.
"Our future work will assess the potential benefit of reactivating CHD5 in neuroblastoma cells which usually retain one silenced copy of this gene. We hope that this research will lead to new and improved treatments for children with this disease."
The news of potential new treatments for neuroblastoma is met with a "cautious welcome" from families of children who suffer from the disease. Eight-year-old Robyn Smyth has been battling neuroblastoma since she was diagnosed at three years old, going through chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and she was on tablets.
Robyn's mother Bernadette Smyth expressed to The Journal her feelings about the possibility of a new treatment option. "While I welcome any new research or breakthroughs to do with neuroblastoma, it usually takes years for any new treatments to be introduced."
She added that if Robyn, who is currently in the middle of another bout of chemotherapy, is unresponsive to her treatment then the family hopes to travel to New York to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for further treatment.
The family is currently fundraising money for Robyn. For more information about Robyn and her family and to donate to the fund, you can visit Robynslife.com