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Technology and Health News > Tuesday, August-26-2008

The causes of neuroblastoma



The mutation of the gene Alk would be responsible for inherited forms of cancer.

Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer more widespread and aggressive: it attacks the autonomic nervous system during development, forming frequently in tumor masses or into the chest. A study, published in Nature and coordinated by the Children Hospital of Philadelphia (USA), indicates that mutations in the gene anaplastic lymphoma kinase (Alk) would be responsible for inherited forms of the disease.

The international group of researchers, including some of the Italian Institute for Cancer Research in Genoa, have collected genetic information of 20 families where the disease was presented in more than one occasion, by analyzing the DNA of 176 people ( of which 49 with neuroblastoma). Eight families, in which at least three individuals suffering from the disease were closely analyzed, possessed the changed Alk gene. The normal role of this gene, which expresses a transmembrane receptor, is not yet understood in depth but, according to previous studies, its alterations increase the risk of developing lymphoma or lung cancer.



But the Alk would be involved even if the most common non-hereditary neuroblastoma. According to researchers, its mutation (in this case acquired during development) occurs in 12 percent of cases studied.

The discovery, scientists say, could encourage the development of therapies that act directly on gene, and tests that enable them to assess the predisposition to the disease before its appearance.

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