A new Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin is studying the development of pediatric cancers. The research group is being funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and will receive €1.7 million over five years.
Why do some children develop cancer in the first few years of life? How is this possible in the absence of exposure to carcinogenic substances? These are the questions which Charité's new research team is setting out to investigate. Led by Dr. Anton Henssen of the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Oncology and Hematology, the researchers are hoping to learn how certain genomic mutations contribute to cancer development in children. As part of this endeavor, they are developing new DNA sequencing technologies - analytical methods used to determine the precise order of individual DNA building blocks. These building blocks make up a person's set of genetic information, which is known as their 'genome'.
"These techniques are used to determine a person's genome and enable us to identify mutations in cancers. We are particularly interested in the mechanisms that allow the mutations in cancers to develop in the first place," explains Dr. Henssen, who, alongside his team, is studying DNA transposases - enzymes that act like scissors and are capable of cutting and removing sections of DNA. These 'DNA scissors' are active in pediatric cancers and contribute to their development. Therefore, the researchers will be using tumor DNA sequencing on the cancers of pediatric patients, testing them for signs of DNA transposase activity. Explaining the aims of his Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group, Dr. Henssen adds: "We are also planning to test the efficacy of new cancer therapies. We are hoping that, in a few years' time, we will be in a position to offer these children better, more personalized treatments."