Since 2010, Memphis-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been working with Washington University in St. Louis on The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, the largest effort ever aimed at sequencing the entire genomes of both normal and cancer cells from pediatric cancer patients.
The project, which compared differences in DNA to identify genetic mistakes that lead to childhood cancers, has provided new insights into the pathology of two different cancers: retinoblastoma, an aggressive eye cancer that can leave children blind, and an aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The findings have helped identify the mechanism that makes retinoblastoma so aggressive while other cancers can take years or even decades to form, and have led investigators to a new treatment target and possible therapy for the rare childhood tumor of the retina.
Researchers also discovered that the subtype of leukemia characterized by a poor prognosis is fueled by mutations in pathways that are distinctly different from a seemingly similar leukemia associated with a much better outcome. The findings provide the first details of the genetic alterations fueling a subtype of ALL and highlight possible new strategies for treating patients with this aggressive form of cancer.
The findings were reported Wednesday, Jan. 11, in an advance online edition of the scientific journal Nature. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has also launched a data website called “Explore,” which features published research results from The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project.
“Explore allows researchers to access the genome project’s unique, published data specific to pediatric cancers and to make discoveries of their own,” Dr. James Downing, deputy director and scientific director at St. Jude, said in a statement. “We want to be a catalyst for the field and accelerate progress with the research gleaned from the genome project.”