Like osteosarcoma, some brain cancers also have a poor survival rate. Dr. Will Parsons, BCM assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology, has focused much of his research on the genomic analysis of brain tumors, working in collaboration with BCM's Human Genome Sequencing Center.
"We still don't do very well curing kids with certain types of brain cancer," he said. "The survival rate for some specific types is close to zero."
Glioma is one type of brain cancer with a low survival rate. Parsons recently received a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation that will support his goal of identifying genetic mutations or deletions that lead to gliomas.
"Because of the advances in genome sequencing that have been made over the last decade, for the first time we have the capability to sequence genes on a large scale to determine to determine what some of these mutated genes are that are causing cancer," Parsons said. "This may enable us to come up with specific medicines and treatment rather than using the same, nonspecific treatment for all brain cancers."
New targeted therapy is especially important for brain tumors because of the side effects of standard treatment, which typically includes chemotherapy and radiation. Many children with brain cancer are very young, and their brains are still developing. The effects of treatment can be very profound, Parsons said.
Even children with brain cancers that have a higher cure rate, such as medulloblastoma, may fall into a category of patients who do not respond well to treatment, Parsons said.
Goal of research
An overall goal of his work is to determine through genetic research the underlying reason why a patient does or does not respond to treatment. This too, will help scientists develop potential targeted therapies.
Parsons also received a CPRIT grant to study liver tumors in pediatric cancer and is engaged in similar genomic analyses of several other pediatric solid tumors.