Researchers studying a rare, lethal childhood tumor of the brainstem discovered that nearly 80 percent of the tumors have mutations in genes not previously tied to cancer. Early evidence suggests the alterations play a unique role in other aggressive pediatric brain tumors as well. The findings from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital – Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP) offer important insight into a poorly understood tumor that kills more than 90 percent of affected patients within two years. The tumor, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), is found almost exclusively in children and accounts for 10 to 15 percent of pediatric tumors of the brain and central nervous system. "We are hopeful that identifying these mutations will lead us to new selective therapeutic targets, which are particularly important since this tumor cannot be treated surgically and still lacks effective therapies," said Dr. Suzanne Baker, co-leader of the St. Jude Neurobiology and Brain Tumor Program and a member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology. She is a corresponding author of the study published in the January 29, 2012 online edition of Nature Genetics. DIPG is an extremely invasive tumor that occurs in the brainstem, which is at the base of the skull and controls such vital functions as breathing and heart rate. DIPG cannot be cured by surgery and is accurately diagnosed by non-invasive imaging. As a result, DIPG is rarely biopsied in the U.S. and little is known about it. Cancer occurs when normal gene activity is disrupted, allowing for the unchecked cell growth and spread that makes cancer so lethal.
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