Differentiating neuroblastoma cells stained for microtubules (purple), actin (green).  Credit:  Torsten Wittmann, PhD.   UCSF Biomedical Sciences.

A protein produced by nerve cells appears to be elevated in the blood of those with an aggressive form of neuroblastoma. The findings, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 2015 Annual Meeting, could potentially lead to a prognostic test for the disease or be used to monitor its progress.

The team from Georgetown University explain that neuroblastoma is a pediatric cancer with varying types, ranging from spontaneously regressing to untreatable fatal tumours. Consequently, treatment strategies vary significantly between patients, encompassing different approaches including observation alone or intensive chemo- and radiotherapy.  Given the severe late effects of anti-cancer treatment administered to infants and children, proper disease stratification is of utmost importance for neuroblastoma patients, state the team.

Because of their neuronal origin, neuroblastomas synthesize and release neuropeptide Y (NPY), a small protein normally secreted from mature nerves. In previous research the researchers have shown that NPY, acting via its Y2 and Y5 receptors (Y2R and Y5R), is crucial for maintaining neuroblastoma growth and protecting the tumours from chemotherapy.

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