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Coloured scanning electron micrograph of neuroblastoma cancer cells

Cells (artificially coloured) of neuroblastoma, one of the most common cancers in very young children. Credit: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library

Cancer

Quirks of kids’ cancers are revealed — and could shape hunt for drugs

Paediatric tumours have different mutations from adults’, suggesting that some adult therapies will miss the mark in youngsters.

By performing genome-scale screening in 13 types of childhood tumour, scientists have uncovered clues to the tumours’ potential Achilles heels — but have also learnt that paediatric cancers have unique vulnerabilities not present in adult tumours.

Paediatric cancers, such as neuroblastoma and Ewing’s sarcoma, often have ‘quiet’ genomes with many fewer mutations than adult cancers. Francisca Vazquez at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Kimberly Stegmaier at the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, and their colleagues, sought to identify the genes that are essential for paediatric cancer cells’ survival. Such genes might represent new therapeutic targets in these difficult-to-treat childhood cancers.

The team used CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing to knock out and identify essential genes in 82 lines of paediatric cancer cells. Despite having fewer mutations, these cells depended on just as many genes for survival as did adult cancer cells.

A subset of the essential genes was shared between paediatric and adult cancers, and might demonstrate an opportunity to repurpose drugs designed for adults. But many of the genes were unique to paediatric cancers, suggesting the need for focused drug-discovery efforts specifically for paediatric cancer targets.

More Research Highlights...

Coloured transmission electron micrograph of two Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria

Genomic analysis identified starch-loving Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria (artificially coloured) in the mouths of modern humans and Neanderthals, but not in chimpanzees’ mouths. Credit: National Infection Service/Science Photo Library

Microbiome

Microbes in Neanderthals’ mouths reveal their carb-laden diet

Gunk on ancient teeth yields bacterial DNA, allowing scientists to trace the oral microbiome’s evolution.
Artist's concept of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space

Data collected by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which launched in 1977, has helped scientists to calculate the density of the interstellar plasma. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Voyager 1 captures faint ripples in the stuff between the stars

The first spacecraft to visit interstellar space has now become the first to make continuous measurements of waves in that remote realm.
Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
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