Little Princess Trust News

Research makes crucial cancer discovery

Project funded by Little Princess Trust finds genetic root of rare tumour

A fundamental change in the understanding of a childhood cancer is on the horizon thanks to a project funded by The Little Princess Trust.

Scientists have now discovered the earliest genetic root of the kidney cancer, known as Wilms’ tumour, after comparing tissue samples.

Understanding the root of the cancer promises to improve treatment and help prevent Wilms’ tumours returning.

The discovery by the team at the Wellcome Sanger Institute also increases the chance of one day being able to screen for cancers like this before tumours develop.

Tim Coorens, the first author of the study, said: “A good analogy for what we found is that Wilms’ tumour is not just an isolated weed on an otherwise well maintained field.

“We discovered that the weed has an extensive root underneath the soil. Now we know we need to look for the patch of soil where the root has taken hold. If we remove that patch, the weed isn’t going to return.”

The Little Princess Trust, which gave a grant of £63,844 to the research project, was started in memory of Hannah Tarplee after she was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumour in 2005.

Wendy Tarplee-Morris, Hannah’s mother, said the discovery offered hope that a significant breakthrough was soon possible.

Mrs Tarplee-Morris, who is now the Research Manager at The Little Princess Trust, added: "As a parent who lost my daughter to Wilms’, it is very sobering to know that almost 15 years later a child with the same diagnosis is likely to have the same outcome.

“Therefore, the news of any advances which improve understanding and could potentially lead to preventing childhood cancer is very welcome indeed."

Dr Sam Behjati, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said the discovery of the genetic root of Wilms' tumour not only signals a shift in the understanding of this particular cancer but in childhood cancer more generally.

“Our findings represent a radical departure from how we think about Wilms’ tumour because we never expected to find the root of cancer in normal-looking tissue,” he added.

“It may even pave the way for us to begin to think about preventing childhood cancer.”

Phil Brace, The Chief Executive of the Little Princess Trust, said the charity was pleased to have supported such an important piece of work.

He added: “As a funder of paediatric cancer research, this was one of our earliest supported projects and we are very keen to support more work in this area.”

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