Childhood cancers are rare and account for about one percent of U.S. cancer diagnoses. They differ from adult tumors in that they often arise from many more diverse kinds of cells, including embryonal tissues, sex-cord stromal cells of the ovary or testis, the brain’s neural and glial cells and more.
Yet although improved tumor detection and treatment have increased survival rates for many different cancer subtypes, more than 1,900 children across the U.S. still lose their battle each year.
A new dataset — comprising the genomic profiles of a huge array of pediatric tumors — could help change that. …
In March 2016, Ollie, a therapy dog at Boston Children’s Hospital, paid a bedside visit to 7-year-old Carter Mock. The pug and the boy had something in common: Both had lost limbs to the bone cancer osteosarcoma. Ollie’s left front leg had been amputated at the shoulder, while Carter had just had a new knee fashioned from his ankle in a procedure called rotationplasty.
Biologically, the osteosarcoma that dogs develop is remarkably similar to osteosarcoma in children and youths. The tumors develop primarily in the long bones, and the spread of tumor cells to the lungs represents the most significant threat and challenge. Similar chemotherapy agents are used in both dogs and human patients to kill residual cancer cells. Researchers are now mining these similarities in a quest for new treatments to benefit pets and people alike. …
A family walks into their oncologist’s office and sits down. Their son’s care team is there, ready to discuss the sequencing report they received about the tumor in his leg.
“We think we have something,” the oncologist says. “We found a known cancer-associated mutation in one gene in the tumor. There’s a drug that targets that exact mutation, and other children and adults whose tumors have this mutation have responded well. We’ll have to monitor your son closely, but we think this is a good option.”
This hypothetical conversation, while common in adult oncology, happens rarely (if at all) on the pediatric side. This kind of personalized, genomics-driven medicine (where the genetic alterations in a patient’s tumor drive therapy, not the tumor’s location) isn’t a standard approach for childhood cancers yet.
Note that I said yet. The door to personalized pediatric genomic cancer medicine is cracking open, in part because three recent papers — including one out of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center — are starting to convince the field that clinical genomics can indeed be done in pediatric oncology. …
For some pediatric cancers, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, older forms of therapy — and older ways of defining who receives which therapy — have served well over the last few decades. But that approach is no longer sufficient. Revolutionary gains have been made in adult oncology using personalized genomic therapy — therapy based on matching treatments to the genetic makeup of a patient’s tumor. The time has come to take them to the pediatric space.