Research news

Gene causing rare form of kidney cancer identified

Children with Wilm’s tumour may no longer need nephrectomies

Children with Wilm’s tumour, a rare form of kidney cancer, may no longer need nephrectomies

Diagram of Wilm’s tumour in a baby
Picture: SPL

A gene linked to a rare form of childhood kidney cancer could hold the key to treating the disease without the need to remove the affected organ, scientists say.

Most children with Wilms’ tumour undergo nephrectomies, but new research suggests that future treatments could target patches of abnormal tissue without the need to sacrifice one or both kidneys.

While kidney cancers in children are rare, Wilms’ tumour is the most common type, affecting around 80 children a year in the UK.

Nine out of ten cases are treated with surgery to remove the affected kidney.

Pre-cancerous tissue can be traced to a single rogue cell

The research team, which included scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, analysed genetic material from 229 kidney tissue samples.

They traced the growth of the pre-cancerous tissue to a single rogue cell with a DNA change that suppresses the H19 gene.

The function of H19, according to the researchers, is to ensure that cells grow in an orderly manner.

When this gene is suppressed, it becomes invisible to other cells, allowing abnormal tissue to develop and take hold.


Coorens T, Treger T, Al-Saadi R et al (2019) Embryonal precursors of Wilms tumour. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.aax1323

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