Scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge have discovered the earliest genetic root for the childhood kidney cancer, Wilms’ tumour. By comparing genome sequences from normal kidney tissue and tumours, the team identified patches of normal-looking kidney tissue that in fact carried DNA changes that cause Wilms’ tumour.
The study identified a novel root by which cancers can form in the first few weeks of life. The research showed how an early cell gains a DNA modification associated with cancer and multiplies while the kidney is developing. Understanding the root of the cancer promises to improve treatment and help prevent recurrence of Wilms’ tumour. This discovery also raises the possibility of one day being able to screen for cancers like this before tumours develop.
Dr. Kathy Pritchard-Jones, Professor of Paediatric Oncology at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: “Surgery for Wilms’ tumour usually involves removing the whole kidney to ensure no tumour is left behind. However, some children need more precise surgery that preserves their kidney function, especially when they have tumours in both kidneys or are at increased genetic risk of further tumours. This study helps us understand how Wilms’ tumours start off and provides a marker for kidney tissue that is at high risk of forming new tumours. My hope is that in future we’ll be able to develop treatments that focus on these patches of abnormal tissue without having to sacrifice one or both kidneys.”