Researchers make neuroblastoma drug target discovery

pharmafile | February 8, 2021 | News story | Sales and Marketing Cancer, GOSH, neuroblastoma 

Scientists conducting the largest single cell study to date of the childhood cancer neuroblastoma have made a breakthrough in identifying drug targets for the disease.

The researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), and the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology, discovered that all neuroblastomas arise from a single type of embryonic cell called sympathoblasts.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that generally affects children under five years old. It begins in the abdomen, usually in the adrenal glands, and its severity can vary greatly between individuals. In some children the cancer will disappear without treatment, whereas in others the cancer is relentless. The five-year survival rate for neuroblastoma is one of the lowest of all childhood cancers.

The purpose of the research was to establish why neuroblastomas range in severity, with some easy to treat and others having relatively low survival rates. In the study, gene expression of 19,723 cancer cells was analysed and compared to a reference of 57,972 developmental adrenal cells, in the hope of identifying the cell types from which neuroblastomas arise and to find novel treatment targets.

The fact that all neuroblastomas originate from sympathoblasts makes them an attractive drug target, because these cells exist only in the tumour after the child is born.

Dr Jan Molenaar, a senior author of the study from the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in the Netherlands, said: “What is most striking about our findings is that despite the great diversity of clinical behaviour of neuroblastoma, there is an overarching neuroblastoma cell type that is found in all patients.

“The identification of sympathoblasts as the root of all neuroblastoma is an important step towards understanding how the disease develops and, hopefully, how we can treat it.”

Dr Karin Straathof, a senior author of the study from Great Ormond Street Hospital, also commented: “Neuroblastoma is an unusual cancer in that some tumours resolve without intervention, yet the disease still has one of the lowest five-year survival rates of any childhood cancer.

“This study fills important gaps in our knowledge of what neuroblastoma cells are and revealed novel treatment targets.  My hope is that new, less intrusive therapies can be developed by targeting sympathoblasts, a developmental cell type that exists only in neuroblastoma tumours after a child is born.”

Darcy Jimenez

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