Cancer treatment need not be the same for patients across geographies as new research suggests that the disease can have more than one subtype due to the possibility of a single cancer carrying different genetic mutations.

The study conducted scientists at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital perhaps explains why a particular form of cancer responds differently to the same treatment that results in vastly diverse outcomes amongst patients across geographies.

The scientists have now developed a new treatment strategy that uses genomic information from different species to understand the biology that drives the formation of the various subtypes of cancer in the human body.

Towards this end, the researchers analyzed the “ependymoma” cancer that affects the brain and spinal cords of children and adults but also has the propensity of transforming into other forms of the disease at a later stage.

This disease in different regions of the nervous system develops when the subtypes of stem cells found in the region acquires specific mutations, the study showed. “This approach provides a flexible way for scientists to test the hypothesis that subsets of different cancers come up when specific mutations occur across a particular cell type,” says Dr. Richard Gilbertson, a member of the Departments of Developmental Neurobiology and Oncology at St. Jude Hospital.

Since the laboratory models developed from this approach accurately model patient subgroups, they can then be used to develop and tailor effective new treatments for these patients, he adds. On analyzing 204 ependymoma cells from patients in the United States, Canada and Europe, researchers observed that the pattern of DNA gain or loss differed depending on the cancer’s location in the brain or spine. They managed to uncover nine subtypes of the disease.

The analysis also identified more than 200 genes as potentially important for triggering the tumor or helping the cancer to spread. The study, which included scientists from seven institutions in the US, Canada and Great Britain, has been published in the online version of scientific journal Nature.