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Baylor College of Medicine News

Center to focus on genetics of childhood cancer with goal of improving therapy

The new Pediatric Center for Personal Cancer Genomics and Therapeutics has been launched at Baylor College of Medicine through a partnership between the Texas Children's Cancer Center and the Human Genome Sequencing Center at BCM.

The goal is to improve the treatment of children with cancer through identification of the specific genetic mutations responsible for their tumors. The center will use state-of-the-art genomic sequencing technologies to comprehensively analyze tumor samples from patients at Texas Children's Cancer Center. Doctors and researchers at the center hope to eventually sequence all new pediatric cancers in the state – cancers affecting 1,000 children per year – in collaboration with investigators at other Texas academic centers.

Sequencing studies

"We aim to translate the research advances gained from these sequencing studies into clinically useful diagnostic tests and innovative therapies that will improve outcomes for all children with cancer," said Dr. Will Parsons, center director, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM and a pediatric oncologist at Texas Children's Cancer Center.

"Our objective is to deliver the optimal therapy for each patient based on the unique genetic characteristics of both the child and their tumor," said Dr. David Poplack, director of the Texas Children's Cancer Center and professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM.

The partnership between Texas Children's Cancer Center and the Human Genome Sequencing Center brings together the clinical and scientific resources and expertise necessary to facilitate groundbreaking studies of the genetics of pediatric cancers, according to Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center and professor and chair of molecular and human genetics at BCM.

Translating results to improve care

"Most importantly, this collaboration will allow us to directly translate the results of these studies to improved patient care through the development of novel diagnostics and therapeutics," Gibbs said.

The center will build on existing tumor banking and sequencing efforts at Texas Children's Cancer Center as well as at the Texas Cancer Research Biobank, for which Gibbs and his colleagues recently received more than $7 million in funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Each tumor is unique

Researchers at the new pediatric genomics center have already contributed to pioneering studies of the genetic aspects of both pediatric and adult cancers. These research projects have helped to characterize the specific molecular alterations underlying a number of cancers, revealing promising diagnostic and therapeutic targets.

"Our studies have clearly shown that the collection of genetic alterations in each patient's tumor is unique, and our treatment strategies for pediatric cancers need to take this complexity into account," said Dr. David Wheeler, director of cancer genomics at the Human Genome Sequencing Center and head of the division of cancer sequencing at the Pediatric Center for Personal Cancer Genomics and Therapeutics.

Core projects

The new center will focus initially on three core projects:

  • The Pediatric Cancer Sequencing Project – sequencing of tumor and blood samples from children with cancer to provide an unprecedented view of the genetic landscape of pediatric cancers.
  • Functional genomics –analyzing the effects of mutations on tumor biology and developing tumor models that can be used to test new therapies.
  • Clinical cancer genomics and therapeutics – incorporating genomic information into the routine clinical care of children with cancer.

The Texas Children Cancer Center is a joint program of BCM and Texas Children's Hospital and the pediatric program of the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at BCM.