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Understanding how the NF1 gene is involved in tumours of the nervous system

Neurofibromatosis is an inherited condition which can be passed on from parents to their children. Sufferers tend to develop a number of benign nerve tumours which have a strong risk of developing into more dangerous malignant cancers. Previous animal models have shown that neurofibroma tumours only form when a gene called NF1 is removed at a critical stage in the mice development but it is not clear how well this mimics what occurs in humans. Dr Lloyd has made a new mouse-model where she can remove the NF1 gene in adult mice. This alone does not cause tumours but if the mice also suffer nerve injury the majority of the mice develop tumours along the length of the nerve. Dr Lloyd is using her Worldwide Cancer Research grant to better understand how these tumours occur and she hopes to be able to look for potential ways to treat these tumours in the future.

Researching tumours of the nervous system

Every cell in our body contains thousands of genes. Cancer is caused by changes to either the structure or activity of key genes that regulate how the cells operate, divide and die. These changes cause the cells to multiply in a rapid and uncontrolled manner, forming a tumour. Professor Gareth Evans is using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to investigate two of the most common types of nervous system tumour, meningioma and schwannoma which occur in the inherited conditions neurofibromatosis type 2 and schwannomatosis. For some tumours the genes which are altered have been identified, for example the NF2 and the SMARCB1 genes, but for many tumours the genetic alterations causing the disease are still unknown and there can often be several genes altered before the tumours develop. The main aim of Professor Evans' project is therefore to try to find previously unidentified genes that become altered and which allow the development and growth of these nervous system tumours. For any altered genes identified he will also try to find ways to block the effect of the alteration using drugs.