Cancer may cross from mother to foetus

12 Oct 2009

Researchers have matched cancer cells in an infant with those from its mother, showing that cancer cells may cross the placenta and cause disease in an infant. Cases of cancer cells transmitted from mother to foetus in utero have been reported, but had previously not been experimentally confirmed. Mel Greaves and colleagues used genetic tracking to show evidence of such maternal-fetal cancer transmission.

The researchers document the case of a 28-year-old mother who developed leukaemia shortly after delivering a child and whose 11-month-old daughter developed the same type of cancer. A genetic analysis revealed a clonal match with the mother's cancer cells in the infant, and subsequent testing of the newborn's blood cells collected in a routine delivery procedure showed that the child had the cancer cells at birth.

Further genetic analysis revealed that the infant's maternally derived leukaemia cells were missing a region of DNA that would have flagged them as intruders and effected elimination by the immune system. The researchers surmise that this gene loss likely enabled the cancer cells to circumvent the placental barrier and escape immune system recognition.


Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Article: "Immunologically silent cancer clone transmission from mother to offspring," by Takeshi Isoda, Anthony M. Ford, Daisuke Tomizawa, Frederik W. van Delft, David Gonzalez De Castro, Norkio Mitsuiki, Joannah Score, Tomohiko Taki, Tomohiro Morio, Masatoshi Takagi, et al.