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Cancer drugs 'treat' aggressive childhood brain tumours

Posted Jan 05 2010 6:23am

BBC News

Aggressive childhood brain tumours could be treatable with a novel combination of two existing cancer drugs, a study suggests.

Computer image of glioblastoma cells
Glioblastomas are aggressive and often fatal cancers of the brain

Researchers led by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) examined 90 tumours from children and found two new genetic abnormalities in nine of them.

They were then able to kill these abnormal tumours, in laboratory tests, by combining the two existing drugs.

But one expert says the findings remain "far off being applicable to patients".

In the UK, about 400 children are diagnosed with brain tumours every year.

The research, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, brought together scientists from the UK, France, Portugal, Brazil and America.

The abnormal tumours - known as glioblastomas, aggressive and often fatal cancers of the brain's glial cells - contained too many copies of the EGFR gene and mutations of the gene the scientists say have never before been found in children.

They tried to block the EGFR gene with a drug, erlotinib (Tarceva), used in clinical trials to treat adult glioblastomas, but identified a molecule specific to the children's cells - platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PGFR) - that was making it ineffective.

But when they combined erlotinib with a drug, imatinib (Glivec), they hoped would block the PGFR molecules, they killed a significant number of the cancer cells.

Dr Chris Jones, who led the research, said it proved "that cancers may look the same, but it is only when you get down to the genetic level that you can truly understand them and devise treatments".

Professor Geoff Pilkington, of the Brainstrust charity, said the research, though fascinating, was at too early a stage to turn into a treatment for patients.

"This sort of twin therapy is a good thing to consider for the future," he said.

Bur he added: "The cells of the brain seem to be unusually resistant to anything thrown at them." Read more...

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