A research team led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists has identified a potential new target for treatment of the childhood eye tumor retinoblastoma. Their work also settles a scientific debate by showing the cancer's cellular origins are as scrambled as the developmental pathways at work in the tumor.
Unlike other cancers that resemble a particular type of cell, researchers showed that retinoblastoma is a hybrid cell with elements of at least three different cell types. Investigators made the discovery using a variety of techniques to study 52 tumors donated by patients. The tumors were removed from a diverse group of patients, most treated at St. Jude and its international affiliates. The research appears in the August 16 edition of the scientific journal Cancer Cell.
Researchers also demonstrated that multiple, normally incompatible, developmental pathways are turned on simultaneously in retinoblastoma tumor cells. These pathways guide the fate of developing cells and determine what types of cells they become. This study found the tumor takes over at least one pathway to fuel its own growth, making it a promising drug development target.
The research provides additional insight into this rare tumor of the retina and is expected to advance understanding of retinoblastoma as well as aid development of more targeted therapies, said Michael Dyer, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology and the study's senior author. Justina McEvoy, Ph.D., and Jacqueline Flores-Otero, Ph.D., are co-first authors of the study and postdoctoral fellows in Dyer's laboratory.
Retinoblastoma is a tumor of the retina, which is the light-sensing membrane at the back of the eye. The tumor is found in about 5,000 individuals worldwide each year, mostly infants and toddlers. Although cure rates exceed 95 percent for patients whose cancer is contained in the eye, the prognosis is bleak if the tumor h
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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital