An international research team led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) in Montreal, Canada has made a major genetic breakthrough that could change the way pediatric cancers are treated in the future. The researchers identified two genetic mutations responsible for up to 40 per cent of glioblastomas in children - a fatal cancer of the brain that is unresponsive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. The mutations were found to be involved in DNA regulation, which could explain the resistance to traditional treatments, and may have significant implications on the treatment of other cancers. The study was published online on January 29, 2012 in Nature. Another article, by a different research team, independently reported related findings online on January 29, 2012 in Nature Genetics (see separate article in BioQuick News, “Histone Mutations Associated with Aggressive Childhood Brain Tumors”). Using the knowledge and advanced technology of the team from the McGill University and Génome Québec Innovation Centre, the researchers identified two mutations in an important gene known as the histone H3.3 gene. This gene, one of the guardians of our genetic heritage, is key to modulating the expression of our genes. "These mutations prevent the cells from differentiating normally and help protect the genetic information of the tumor, making it less sensitive to radiotherapy and chemotherapy," says Dr. Nada Jabado, hematologist-oncologist at The Montreal Children's Hospital of the MUHC and principal investigator of the study. "This research helps explain the ineffectiveness of conventional treatments against cancer in children and adolescents – we've been failing to hit the right spot," says Dr. Jabado, who is also an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at McGill University.
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