Dublin-Stockholm team cracks function of gene involved in neuroblastoma

14 Aug 2013

A microscopic view of a typical neuroblastoma with rosette formation. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Research findings from a team of scientists in Dublin and Stockholm on the function of the CHD5 gene may lead to better treatment therapies for children with the cancer neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma, a cancer of nerve cells called neuroblasts, is the most common cancer in children younger than two years of age. Neuroblasts are found throughout the body. Normally, these immature cells grow and mature into functioning nerve cells, but in neuroblastoma, they fail to mature and become cancer cells instead. A key in this development, as the scientists’ research findings show, is the CHD5 gene, which is deleted in children with the worst form of neuroblastoma.

Dr Adrian Bracken led the group of scientists from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin in researching the function of CHD5.

Chris Egan, the lead author on the study, and a post-doctoral fellow in Bracken’s laboratory, together with colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, showed that without CHD5, neuroblasts are incapable of maturing or “differentiating” to mature neurons.

Bracken said understanding the role of genes whose deletion or inactivation is associated with disease is central to designing intelligent therapeutic strategies.

“Our work has unravelled the normal function of the CHD5 gene, and suggests that its inactivation in neuroblastoma leads to an inability of these cells to correctly mature or differentiate,” said Bracken.

“Our future work will assess the potential benefit of reactivating CHD5 in neuroblastoma cells which usually retain one silenced copy of this gene. We hope that this research will lead to new and improved treatments for children with this disease.”

The scientists, whose work has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland, have just published their findings in the international journal Developmental Cell.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic