Researchers have found a gene that causes most inherited forms of neuroblastoma, a rare and deadly form of childhood cancer, and are of opinion that the discovery signals new treatments.
Researchers from the United States, Italy and Belgium reported on Sunday that mutations in a gene called ALK were strongly linked to neuroblastoma. They revealed that several companies are already working on drugs that target this gene, which is also mutated in some cases of lung cancer and lymphoma.
"This discovery enables us to offer the first genetic tests to families affected by the inherited form of this disease," said Dr. Yael Mosse of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who worked on the study.
"Furthermore, because there already are drugs in development that target the same gene in adult cancers, we can soon begin testing those drugs in children with neuroblastoma."
Neuroblastoma is responsible for 15 percent of childhood cancer deaths, with just a 40 percent survival rate, albeit it only causes about 7 percent of all pediatric cancers.
"This is a very important discovery, as it not only helps us understand the genetic roots of this terrible disease, but also has led to dramatically new ideas for curative therapy," said Dr. John Maris of Children's Hospital, who directed the study.