Researchers at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern (CRI) have identified a gene that contributes to the development of several childhood cancers, in a study conducted with mice designed to model the human cancers. If the findings prove to be applicable to humans, the research could lead to new strategies for targeting certain childhood cancers at a molecular level. The study was published online on August 11, 2014 in Cancer Cell. “We and others have found that Lin28b (see image of cells stained with anti-Lin28b antibody)– a gene that is normally turned on in fetal but not adult tissues – is expressed in several childhood cancers, including neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor, and hepatoblastoma, a type of cancer that accounts for nearly 80 percent of all liver tumors in children,” said Dr. Hao Zhu, a principal investigator at CRI, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “In our study, we found that overproduction of Lin28b specifically causes hepatoblastoma, while blocking Lin28b impairs the cancer’s growth. This opens up the possibility that pediatric liver cancer patients could one day be treated without resorting to chemotherapy.” Lin28b is an attractive therapeutic target in cancer because it is ordinarily only expressed in embryos, so blocking it in children should specifically hinder cancer growth without introducing many side effects. Each year in the United States, 700 children are newly diagnosed with neuroblastoma, 500 with Wilms’ tumor, and 100 with hepatoblastoma. At Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, more than 100 children have been treated for those three types of cancers over the last two years.
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