DALLAS, Texas – Five year old Elizabeth Eastham has just finished a round of chemotherapy to treat kidney cancer. It's a tough battle, but Elizabeth's mom knows today's discoveries may bring tomorrow's hope.
"With what they find with your child can help another child later on would be fantastic," said Elizabeth's mother, Angela Eastham.
Dr. Hao Zhu, Assistant Professor Children's Research Institute at UT Southwestern, is researching how pediatric cancers develop on the genetic level. He's pinpointed a gene that contributes to childhood cancers like neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor and liver cancer.
"And what we hope to do is to discover specific genetic targets for novel drugs to kill cancers without hurting the rest of the body," Zhu explained.
In laboratory mice,
Zhu has found that the lin28 gene, which normally contributes to embryonic growth, also plays a role in cancer formation- in fully developed juveniles.
"We hope one day to be able to treat and diagnose cancers better in children," added Zhu.
"You don't want this for your child," said Eastham, "But you know that everything is in god's plan, and you know he saw us through this entire process and kept our strength up, and everyone's strength up around us to keep going and face one day at a time."
It may be years from the laboratory to the patient, but this discovery, published in the journal Cancer Cell, gives researchers hope that understanding how cancer works will lead to better treatments for children in the future.
Childhood cancers are often the result of DNA changes early in life, which is what differentiates them from adult cancers. This also means that they are not heavily linked to environmental or lifestyle risk factors. While there are some exceptions, most children's cancers are treated with chemotherapy, which a child's body can handle much better than an adult's; however, chemo can still cause long-term side effects that may result in secondary treatments throughout their lives. The most common cancers that occur in children are: leukemia, brain/central nervous system tumors, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, Hodgkin/non-Hodgkin lymphoma, retinoblastoma, bone cancer and rhabdomyosarcoma.
(Sources: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerinchildren/detailedguide/cancer-in-children-differences, http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerinchildren/detailedguide/cancer-in-children-types)
NEW DISCOVERY: Hao Zhu, M.D., of the Children's Research Institute at UT Southwestern, along with George Daley, M.D., Ph.D., of the Children's Hospital Boston co-authored a paper, published in the Cancer Cell journal, regarding the discover of the Lin28 gene and its relationship to children's cancer. From Dr. Zhu's study in mice, the Lin28 gene activates metabolic pathways that provide building blocks of growth for certain cancers. He studied various scenarios, from increasing the gene significantly, to deleting it. The reason for choosing the Lin28 gene is because it is ordinarily expressed in embryos, which would mean that blocking it in children should prevent any further cancer growth. Dr. Zhu hopes to study genes related to Lin28 and find out what, if any, affect it has on cancer development; the goal is to see if there would be any other effective targets for potential therapies. To view the article in Cancer Cell, follow this link: http://www.cell.com/cancer-cell/abstract/S1535-6108(14)00269-4#.