’Disappearing’ tumour study could lead to new cancer treatments

A research study at The University of Nottingham looking at how growth can contribute to spontaneous childhood cancer regression could lead to more effective ways of treating tumours.

The one-year project, led by Christopher Jones in the School of Nursing in collaboration with Dr Michael Symonds in the Division of Child Health and Dr David Walker at the University’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre, will look at whether growth hormone plays a part in tumours spontaneously getting better.

The researchers are looking at neuroblastoma, which accounts for around six per cent of all childhood cancers. Around 100 children develop neuroblastoma each year in the UK and most of these are less than four years of age.

In around three-quarters of these cases the cancer spreads around the body and the current survival rates are only around 30 per cent.

However, when a tumour of this kind occurs in the liver, particularly in the first year of life, it is only fatal in between 10 and 20 per cent of sufferers and, in many cases, spontaneously regresses without the need for treatment.

Scientists have been studying this medical phenomenon for many years, although most research has centred on looking at the biology of the tumour in an effort to discover why it self-destructs.

The Nottingham researchers, however, believe it could be something within the body and not the tumour itself that sparks off this regression and think that it could be due to the release of hormones that control growth in infancy.

Dr Michael Symonds said: “We believe that spontaneous tumour regression is linked to unique changes within the liver in early childhood, which coincide with the onset of growth hormone-dependent growth.”

It is hoped that the study, funded with £7,000 from the Special Trustees of Nottingham University Hospital, will attract more funding for the study of childhood cancers and could even lead to more effective treatments for non-regressing neuroblastoma, as well as other aggressive tumours such as breast cancer and certain types of childhood brain tumours.

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