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Pilocytic astrocytoma – are fusion genes the key to a cure?

Fast facts

  • Official title: Molecular-Genetic and Epigenetic Analysis of Pilocytic & Pilomyxoid Astrocytomas and Ependymomas
  • Lead Researchers: Professor Peter Collins
  • Where: University of Cambridge
  • When: June 2010 – May 2013
  • Cost: £148,966
  • Research type: Paediatric, Pilocytic Astrocytoma (Low Grade), Tumour biology, Academic

Investigating the role of the fusion gene KIAA1549:BRAF in the development of childhood pilocytic astrocytoma.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Peter Collins, will be investigating the role of the fusion gene KIAA1549:BRAF in the development of childhood pilocytic astrocytoma.

Over 60% of pilocytic astrocytoma tumours contain the fusion gene KIAA1549:BRAF, which is formed when two separate genes, KIAA1549 and BRAF, join together. The effect of this fusion gene on tumour development is currently unknown.

The team will use brain stem cells to investigate whether this fusion gene has a role in the transformation of healthy brain cells to cancerous ones. A stem cell is an immature form of cell that has not yet become a specific cell type e.g. a nerve cell, and can act as an important model system to study brain tumour development.

Using molecular biology techniques, the fusion gene will be added to the brain stem cells and ‘switched on’. The team will then compare the growth and development of these cells with stem cells which do not contain the fusion gene.

This information will help the researchers to understand whether KIAA159:BRAF is involved in the development of pilocytic astrocytoma and if this gene can be targeted by drugs to prevent tumour formation.

Pilocytic astrocytoma is a common childhood brain tumour. Understanding the abnormal genetic make up of this tumour type is essential if children are to be diagnosed accurately and treatments developed which target the cancer cells only and do not harm the developing brain.

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