Children suffering from a particular type of cancer could be offered new hope following research from the University of Newcastle.
Neuroblastoma, the second biggest cancer killer of children, tends to be particularly difficult to treat in relapses.
However, research published in Clinical Cancer Research has identified an abnormality in a gene which could explain the problems with relapses.
The gene p53 was found to have abnormalities in around half of the 41 cases of relapsed neuroblastoma which were studied.
These abnormalities can activate cell death or stop cells reproducing following DNA damage, which could be caused, for example, by chemotherapy treatment.
Dr Deborah Tweddle, clinical senior lecturer at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, commented: "Over half of all children who get high risk neuroblastoma will relapse and the chances of surviving a relapse are at present very small.
"This research is one of the first to investigate the cause of relapsed neuroblastoma and finding this link is an important breakthrough in developing new treatments."
She added that the university is now in the process of developing drugs to reactivate the gene in the hope of reducing the deaths of young children following relapses of the cancer.