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Scientists close in on method to fight deadly childhood cancer
Date:10/15/2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A multicenter team of researchers, including scientists from the University of Florida, has discovered a way to potentially block the growth of neuroblastoma, a type of cancer responsible for 15 percent of all cancer deaths in children.

Working with human cell lines and tissue samples, researchers describe in Thursday's (Oct. 16, 2008) online issue of Nature how they were able to short-circuit genetic processes that apparently contribute to neuroblastomas tumors that arise from the developing nervous system in children and often appear in the abdomen, chest or neck.

Concentrating on a gene known as ALK, the scientists used a small-molecule inhibitor a technique common to many drugs to block abnormalities that apparently cause neuroblastomas.

Neuroblastomas are extremely rare, appearing in about 600 patients annually in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. About half of the patients with neuroblastoma are diagnosed before the age of 18 months. In 40 percent of cases, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body by the time doctors discover it.

Treatment usually involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and transplantation for high-risk patients.

"We need to find a home run for these kids," said Wendy B. London, Ph.D., a research associate professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and health policy research at the UF College of Medicine and a member of the UF Shands Cancer Center. "A targeted therapy to treat patients with ALK mutations would be a real breakthrough."

Led by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers Rani E. George, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and A. Thomas Look, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Harvard, the scientists analyzed the ALK gene in 94 tumors representative of general neuroblastomas and 30 neuroblastoma cell lines.

Scientists discovered that ALK abnormalities
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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