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At the deepest level, children are not just small adults when it comes to cancer

Memphis, Tennessee, February 28, 2018

Study authors Xiatu Ma, Jinghui Zhang, PhD, and Yu Liu, PhD

(From left) Study authors Xiatu Ma, Jinghui Zhang, PhD, and Yu Liu, PhD, participated in a comprehensive pan-cancer analysis of childhood cancer genomic data.

Cancer strikes at any age. But the disease often begins in different places in the bodies of children and adults. Research led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital shows the differences often go much deeper.

Researchers studied details about the genes and mutations driving cancer in about 1,700 children and teens with different types of cancer. The study compared patients’ tumor cells and normal cells. The scientists also compared the findings from studies with young people and with adults.

The approach, called pan-cancer analysis, showed that the genes driving cancer in children and adults are often different. In fact, only 45 percent of the changed or mutated genes are the same.

“These results really bring home the message that children with cancer are not small adults and their cancer should not be treated as if that were the case,” said Jinghui Zhang, PhD, chair of the St. Jude Department of Computational Biology. Understanding the biology of patients’ cancers—why cells keep dividing and do not die—is key to developing better treatments and diagnostic tests.

The research appeared in the journal Nature.

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