Please note, this page may contain outdated information or subject matter.

You are here:

Germ cell cancers – protecting children from the side effects of treatment and saving more lives

Published on


Updated on

What did the project achieve?

Our early laboratory results suggest a potentially exciting new avenue for developing targeted treatments for germ cell cancers,” says Dr Shivani Bailey of the University of Cambridge. “This offers the hope of better treatments for children and young people with these tumours, which could help save more lives and reduce the risk of long-term side effects.”

Up to 45 children are diagnosed with germ cell cancer (GCC) every year in the UK.1 Most children who develop these cancers will be cured but survivors may be left with long-term health complications due to side effects of current treatments – and sadly, some children still lose their lives.

This research focused on molecules called microRNAs – small pieces of genetic material that help control protein production in cells.

“In germ cell cancers, a small number of very similar microRNAs are present in excessive amounts,” says Dr Bailey. “In our experiments, we showed that blocking the action of these microRNAs led to decreases in the number of germ cell cancer cells growing in laboratory dishes.”

The team identified that excessive levels of these microRNAs cause changes in several cellular processes, including some already known to play an important role in promoting cancer cell growth and survival.

“These results shed new light on the important role of these microRNAs in driving the growth of germ cell cancers,” says Dr Bailey. “Developing new therapies that can specifically reduce levels of these microRNAs in cancer cells could be an effective way to help stop the growth of germ cell tumours while leaving healthy cells unharmed.



[1] Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, Germ cell tumours: https://www.cclg.org.uk/Germ-cell-tumours [website accessed 09 August 2021]

This research was completed on

Research Training Fellowship*: Dr Shivani Bailey

Up to 45 children are diagnosed with germ cell cancer (GCC) every year in the UK.1 Some of these cancers occur in the ovaries or testes (germ cells develop into eggs and sperm); the rest occur elsewhere in the body, including the brain. Although survival rates are high, some children still die of their disease and current treatments can lead to life-long health problems in survivors. Dr Shivani Bailey, of the University of Cambridge, is studying a possible new treatment, with the ultimate aim of sparing children and young people from long-term side effects and saving more lives.

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Children with germ cell cancers are currently treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy” says Dr Bailey.2,3 “Parents worry not only about whether their child will survive, but also about the toxicity of these therapies and how this might affect the rest of their child’s life.”

Most children with germ cell cancers are cured, but current therapies can have damaging side-effects, as Dr Bailey explains: “Children who survive can go on to develop long-term complications. For example chemotherapy is associated with hearing loss, and kidney, heart and lung problems.”

Although treatment often proves life-saving, sadly it doesn’t work for everyone. “Some children with these tumours die, particularly those who relapse with tumours within the brain, and those whose tumours are resistant to conventional chemotherapy,” says Dr Bailey.

How could this research help?

“Our ultimate aim is to develop a better treatment for children and young people with germ cell cancers – one that improves survival rates and causes fewer long-term side effects, so that patients can live long and healthy lives after treatment,” says Dr Bailey. “Our work focuses on molecules called microRNAs – small pieces of genetic code that help control protein production in cells.”

Certain microRNAs are present in excessive amounts in germ cell cancers. Dr Bailey is investigating whether substances that block the action of these microRNAs could be developed into the safer, more effective drug treatments she is searching for.

Germ cell cancer can affect people of all ages, including babies, children and young people. Indeed, testicular germ cell cancer is one of the commonest causes of cancer in young men.4,5 A better treatment would be welcomed by all.


* Research Training Fellowships:
Each year, Action Medical Research awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research.


  1. Macmillan Cancer Support. Germ cell tumours in children. http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Cancertypes/Childrenscance... Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  2. Cancer Research UK. Childhood cancer incidence statistics. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/childhoodcancer/... Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  3. Cancer Research UK/. Data Table: Childhood cancer incidence in Great Britain 1996-2005. http://publications.cancerresearchuk.org/publicationformat/data_tables/d... Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  4. NHS Choices. Testicular cancer. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cancer-of-the-testicle/Pages/Introduction.aspx Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  5. Teenage Cancer Trust. Testicular cancer. http://www.teenagecancertrust.org/get-clued-up/understanding-cancer/type... Website accessed 6 March 2014.


Project Leader Research Training Fellow: Dr S Bailey MBBS BSc MRCPCH
Project Team Supervisor: Dr Matthew J Murray MBBChir MA PhD FRCPCH FHEA PGCertMedEdSupervisor: Professor Nicholas Coleman MBChB PhD FRCPath
Project Location Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge
Project duration 3 years
Date awarded 6 February 2014
Project start date 4 February 2015
Project end date 31 May 2019
Grant amount £197,895
Grant code GN2244


We do not provide medical advice. If you would like more information about a condition or would like to talk to someone about your health, contact NHS Choices or speak to your GP.