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Research could reveal genetic source of pediatric cancer

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A new genetic discovery is offering hope for families dealing with childhood cancers. (WLS)

This year alone, 16,000 children under the age of 19 will be diagnosed with cancer.

Although cancer in children is rare and not well-understood, it is the leading cause of disease-related death among children and teenagers. But, the outlook is improving thanks to cutting-edge research at the genetic level.

Elizabeth Eastham, 5, has just finished a round of chemotherapy to treat kidney cancer. It's a tough battle, but Eastham's mom knows today's discoveries may bring tomorrow's hope.

"With what they find with your child can help another child later on would be fantastic," Angela Eastham, Elizabeth's mother, said.

Dr. Hao Zhu is researching how pediatric cancers develop on the genetic level. He's pinpointed a gene that contributes to childhood cancers like neuroblastoma, wilms tumor and liver cancer.

"And what we hope to do is to discover specific genetic targets for novel drugs to kill cancers without hurting the rest of the body," Zhu said.

In laboratory mice, Zhu has found that the LIN28 gene, which normally contributes to embryonic growth, also plays a role in cancer formation.

"We hope to one day to be able to treat or diagnose cancers better in children," Zhu said.

"You don't want this for your child. But you know that everything is in God's plan, and you know he saw us through this entire process and kept our strength up and everyone's strength up around us to keep going and face one day at a time," Angela Eastham said.

It may be years from the laboratory to the patient, but this discovery, published in the Journal Cancer Cell, gives researchers hope that understanding how cancer works will lead to better treatments for children in the future.

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