Genome research project data sheds light on aggressive forms of childhood cancers

As St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis work to sequence the genomes of pediatric cancer patients, a pair of studies released yesterday based on data from the organizations' Pediatric Cancer Genome Project hint at how the technology could lead to better treatment.

In addition, the organizations have launched a new website to share data and discoveries with other researchers.  

In the first study, researchers discovered that a subtype of leukemia characterized by a poor prognosis is fueled by mutations in pathways distinctly different from a seemingly similar leukemia associated with a much better outcome. The findings could lead to a new strategy for treating patients with this aggressive type of cancer, according to a summary in NCI Cancer Center News.

In the second study, researchers used the genome data to identify the mechanism that makes the childhood eye tumor retinoblastoma so aggressive. The discovery explains why the tumor develops so rapidly while other cancers can take years or even decades to form, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Both studies were published online yesterday in the journal Nature.

The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project is a $65-million, three-year effort designed to sequence 600 pediatric cancers, along with the normal DNA of the children who have them.

The new website aims to aid researchers conducting similar research. It is designed for use by clinical and non-clinical researchers and will include genomic data and data visualizations, an overview of the genome project's progress, access to specific disease information, summaries of current discoveries, links to publications and views of single-patient genome data to disease levels, according to an article in Health Data Management.

"We want to understand: What mutations cause a normal cell to turn into cancer?" St. Jude CEO Dr. William Evans, M.C. told the Los Angeles Times' Booster Shots blog

The St. Jude and Washington University researchers are targeting the cancers that they have the most difficulty treating today, the Times reported, and although physicians do better treating retinoblastoma, the current treatment involves loss of vision, so they'd like to find new therapies.

Meanwhile, a DNA sequencer that can map a human genome within 24 hours at a cost of $1,000 could make genomic testing more accessible. 

To learn more:
- read the Health Data Management article
- read the Los Angeles Times' blog blog post
- explore the Pediatric Genome Project website
- read the Nature retinoblastoma therapy study
- check out the Nature clonal evolution study
- here's the NCI news releases 

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