Stories about: Wilm’s tumor

ctDNA: Bringing ‘liquid biopsies’ to pediatric solid tumors

Brian Crompton studies the use of ctDNA as an alternative way to biopsy pediatric solid tumors
Brian Crompton with Stephanie Meyer (left) and Kellsey Wuerthele (PHOTO: JOHN DEPUTY)

Our blood carries tiny amounts of DNA from broken-up cells. If we have cancer, some of that DNA comes from tumor cells. Studies performed with adult cancers have shown that this circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) may offer crucial clues about tumor genetic mutations and how tumors respond to treatment.

Brian Crompton, MD, with colleagues at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and elsewhere, is now working to bring ctDNA “liquid biopsies” to pediatric solid tumors as well. The researchers hope that these blood tests will eventually improve early detection, choice of treatment and monitoring of young patients with these diseases without having to sample the tumor itself.

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The cancer/stem cell connection UUU’npacked further, revealing new targets

Two fundamental processes in biology—stem cell generation and carcinogenesis—are turning out to be closely intertwined. The lab of Richard Gregory, PhD, has been teasing out this relationship at the molecular level.

In 2008, Gregory and his colleagues showed how a factor called Lin28, which is associated with numerous cancers, makes a cell more prone to revert to a less specialized, stem-like state.

Lin28 acts by preventing maturation of Let-7—an ancient family of microRNAs found in creatures from humans to worms. Let-7 is the yin to Lin28’s yang: it causes stem cells to differentiate (embryonic stem cells, which are completely unspecialized, have very low levels of it). If a cell’s Let-7 can’t mature, it can’t differentiate; instead, it remains stem-like and can potentially become cancerous.

Suppressing Lin28 with RNA interference (RNAi) has been shown to suppress tumor growth. But Lin28 is difficult to target with drugs.

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