Extrachomosomal Circular DNA Drives Oncogenic Remodeling in Childhood Cancer; First Detailed Map of Circular DNA in Neuroblastoma Yields Unanticipated Insights

Cancer development is associated with the gradual accumulation of DNA defects over time. Thus, cancer is considered an age-related disease. But why do children develop cancer? An international team of researchers, led by scientists at Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, now reveal that mysterious rings of DNA known as extrachromosomal circular DNA can contribute to cancer development in children. Producing the first detailed map of circular DNA, the scientists have shed new unanticipated insights on long-standing questions in the field of cancer genetics. The work was published online on December 16, 2019 in Nature Genetics. The article is titled “Extrachromosomal Circular DNA Drives Oncogenic Genome Remodeling.” Every year, nearly half a million people in Germany develop cancer. Approximately 2,100 cancer patients are children under the age of 18. The fact that the majority of cancers develop in old adults is due to the mechanisms contributing to cancer development. A range of exogenous factors, including tobacco smoke and radiation, can cause damage to cellular DNA. If this type of DNA damage is left to accumulate over many years, affected cells may lose control over cell division and growth. This results in cancer development. Children, however, are not old enough to be affected by this mechanism of cancer development. What, then, is the reason for childhood cancers? A team of researchers, led by Dr. Anton Henssen of Charité's Department of Pediatrics, Division of Oncology and Hematology and the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC,) an institution jointly operated by Charité and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), is now a significant step closer to finding an answer.
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