Newly identified brain cancer mutation will aid drug development

A collaborative effort between Duke Medicine researchers and neurosurgeons and scientists in China has produced new genetic insights into a rare and deadly form of childhood and young adult brain cancer called brainstem glioma.

The researchers identified a genetic mutation in the that plays a role in both the growth and the death of a cell. Additionally, the mutation to the newly identified gene may also contribute to the tumor's resistance to radiation.

The findings, published online in the journal Nature Genetics on June 1, 2014, provide both immediate and long-term benefits. Knowing that this mutation may render radiation ineffective, patients could be spared that therapy. The mutation would also serve as a strong candidate for drug development.

The researchers conducted genetic tests and found that many of the tumor cells had a mutation in a gene called PPM1D, which causes cells to proliferate and avoid natural death. It is the first time this mutation has been found to be a major driving force in the development of brainstem gliomas; it is not evident in other brain tumors.

If tumors have this PPM1D mutation, they do not have another more common genetic mutation to the TP53 gene, a tumor suppressor that, when defective, is linked to half of all cancers.

"This finding has immediate clinical applications, because either mutation - PPM1D or TP53 – cause the tumor cells to be resistant to radiation," said senior author Hai Yan, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of pathology at Duke University School of Medicine. "Knowing that could spare patients from an ineffective treatment approach."

Additionally, the PPM1D genetic mutation is a strong candidate for new drug development.

"This finding gives us a clue as to why these particular tumors are growing inappropriately," said co-author Zachary Reitman, M.D., Ph.D., a research associate at Duke. "These clues may help us to design better treatments for this type of cancer."

Yan said his lab is working to identify new treatments that could target the PPM1D genetic mutation and shut down its cancer-growing capabilities.

"PPM1D is itself a target for drug development, because the causes cells to avoid death and proliferate," Yan said. "In , it's easier to turn that growth function off than it is to switch on the cell's defective tumor suppression mechanism."

More information: Paper: Exome sequencing identifies somatic gain-of-function PPM1D mutations in brainstem gliomas, DOI: 10.1038/ng.2995

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study identifies genetic change in autism-related gene

15 hours ago

A new study from Bradley Hospital has identified a genetic change in a recently identified autism-associated gene, which may provide further insight into the causes of autism. The study, now published online in the Journal of ...

NIH issues finalized policy on genomic data sharing

Aug 27, 2014

The National Institutes of Health has issued a final NIH Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) policy to promote data sharing as a way to speed the translation of data into knowledge, products and procedures that improve health while ...

The genes behind the guardians of the airways

Aug 27, 2014

Dysfunctions in cilia, tiny hair-like structures that protrude from the surface of cells, are responsible for a number of human diseases. However the genes involved in making cilia have remained largely elusive. ...

Cancer leaves a common fingerprint on DNA

Aug 25, 2014

Regardless of their stage or type, cancers appear to share a telltale signature of widespread changes to the so-called epigenome, according to a team of researchers. In a study published online in Genome Me ...

User comments