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Evolution of Neuroblastoma in Children is Rapid and Complex

Update Date: Jan 21, 2013 07:12 AM EST

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that occurs in childhood and is very aggressive in nature. A recent study of the genome of the same showed that neuroblastoma evolves rapidly and has very less recurrent gene mutations, which means that the scientists were unable to find new targets to cure the cancer.

Neuroblastoma generally appears as a solid tumor in the chest or abdomen of a child and affects the peripheral nervous system. This is the nervous system which connects the brain or the central nervous system to the rest of the body. It is not covered and is vulnerable to any injuries. Almost seven percent of childhood cancers are caused by neuroblastoma and it is also responsible for 10 to 15 percent of all cancer-related deaths in children.

For the research, scientists used the TARGET (Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments), which has the analysis of the genome of 240 children who had the maximum risk of neuroblastoma. The genome of the tumors was then matched with the genome of a healthy cell of the same patient.

"This research underscores the fact that tumor cells often change rapidly over time, so more effective treatments for this aggressive cancer will need to account for the dynamic nature of neuroblastoma. A few years ago, we thought we would be able to sequence the genomes of individual patients with neuroblastoma, detect their specific cancer-causing mutations, and then select from a menu of treatment," study leader John M. Maris, M.D., director of the center for Childhood Cancer Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), was quoted as saying in Medical Xpress.

However, the researchers were unable to find any frequently mutating gene in neuroblastoma, which led the researchers to suspect that other factors contributed to the changes in the tumor.

"The relative paucity of recurrent mutations challenges the concept that druggable targets can be defined in each patient by DNA sequencing alone," the author of the research, which was published in Nature Genetics, also said.

"Personalized medicine is more complex than we had hoped. While there are successes such as those in treating patients whose tumors harbor ALK mutations, this study implies that we must think differently about how we'll use genomics to define treatments," Maris said.

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