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S scientists have released the world’s largest collection of genetic data on childhood cancers in a bid to speed up treatment discoveries.

The US Pediatric Cancer Genome Project has mapped the entire genome – all the DNA – of 260 young cancer patients.

By finding differences between each youngster’s normal and cancerous cells, scientists have pinpointed causes of some of the most deadly child cancers.

They hope by sharing their work others will be able to make new breakthroughs.

Genetic blueprint

The work, published in the journal Nature Genetics, has already revealed a new treatment for a rare form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma.

The project – a collaboration launched in 2010 by St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine – with help from private investors, has also yielded significant insights into aggressive childhood cancers of the brainstem and blood.

Dr Richard Wilson, head of the Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine, said: “We have identified unusual, ‘cryptic’ changes in many patients’ cancer cells that we would not have found using other methods.

“We are pleased to be able to share this data with the research community in the hope that others can build upon our initial discoveries.”

Josephine Querido, of Cancer Research UK, said the work was “hugely important”.

“This study in childhood cancer is part of a global effort to catalogue the gene faults that drive many different cancers,” she said.

Cancer Research UK recently launched two similar projects as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, looking for genetic mistakes in hundreds of prostate and oesophageal cancers in adults.

David Adams, head of experimental cancer genetics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “This unprecedented dataset release by St Jude’s details the landscape of paediatric cancer genome, telling us that cancers that develop in children can be very different to those that develop in adults.

“This is an important lesson to remember. And it is marked by this important gift to cancer research.”

Childhood cancer is rare – around 1,500 new cases are diagnosed every year in the UK.

Researchers worldwide will be able to access the data at the The European Genome-phenome Archive website.

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