It may be possible to target the genes
Scientists have pinpointed three genes key to the development of a form of childhood brain cancer.
The biology behind ependymoma - diagnosed in 35 children in the UK each year - has been poorly understood, and the survival rate is just 50%.
The University of Nottingham team hope their discovery could help scientists develop more effective drugs with fewer side effects.
The study appears in the British Journal of Cancer.
Lead researcher Professor Richard Grundy, from Nottingham's Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre, said: "Understanding the biological causes of cancer is vitally important as it will help us to develop drugs that target abnormal genes in cancer cells but not in healthy cells, which is what traditional chemotherapy treatments do.
"More accurately targeted treatments will cause fewer side-effects than conventional chemotherapy and be more effective.
"So this is an important finding which we hope will lead to the development of new treatments for ependymoma."
The Nottingham study examined gene activity in 74 samples of ependymoma.
They found a gene called SI00A4 was strongly associated with tumours in very young children.
A second gene, SI00A6 was a marker of a tumour in a specific part of the brain.
High activity levels of a third gene, CHI3L1 were common in cancers showing a larger degree of cell death.
All three genes are located on a section of Chromosome 1, which had previously been linked by the team to poor survival for ependymomas.
Professor Grundy said: "We hope our findings will lead to a more detailed understanding of ependymoma.
"This is crucial if we are to ensure each child receives the most appropriate treatment for their disease and that we reduce the number of children in which their cancer recurs."
Kate Law, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "Relatively little is known about the causes of childhood cancer, so this is an important study.
"Overall survival rates for children's cancers have been rapidly improving, but it is crucial that research like this takes place to improve treatments even further."