Scientists discover way to stop spread of devastating childhood cancer

13 July 2020

Researchers at the University of East Anglia and University of Manchester have made an important breakthrough that could lead to ‘kinder’ treatments for children with bone cancer, and save lives.

Current treatment is gruelling, with outdated chemotherapy cocktails and limb amputation. But despite all of this, the five-year survival rate is poor at just 42 per cent – largely because of how rapidly bone cancer spreads to the lungs.

New research published today identifies a set of key genes that drive bone cancer spread to the lungs in patients. In further experiments in mice with engineered human bone cancer cells that lack these key genes, the cancer cannot spread to the lungs.  

The research was led by Dr Darrell Green, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and Dr Katie Finegan from the University of Manchester. 

Darrell was inspired to study childhood bone cancer after his best friend died from the disease as a teenager.  Now, the team has made what could be the most important discovery in the field for more than 40 years.

Darrell said: “Primary bone cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the bones. It’s the third most common solid childhood cancer, after brain and kidney, with around 52,000 new cases every year worldwide.

“It can rapidly spread to other parts of the body, and this is the most problematic aspect of this type of cancer. Once the cancer has spread it is very difficult to treat.

“Around a quarter of patients have cancer that has already spread by the time they are diagnosed. Around half of patients with apparent localised disease relapse, with cancer spread detected later on. These figures have remained stagnant, with no significant breakthroughs in treatment, for more than four decades.

“In high school, my best friend Ben Morley became ill with primary bone cancer. His illness inspired me to do something about it myself because during my studies I realised that this cancer has been all but left behind others in terms of research and treatment progress. So I studied and went through university and obtained my PhD to eventually work in primary bone cancer.

“I want to understand the underlying biology of cancer spread so that we can intervene at the clinical level and develop new treatments so that patients won’t have to go through the things my friend Ben went through. Ultimately we want to save lives and reduce the amount of disability caused by surgery.”

To read the rest of the full article and watch Dr Darrell's Green's video, please visit the original article on the UEA website: https://www.uea.ac.uk/about/-/scientists-discover-way-to-stop-spread-of-devastating-childhood-cancer