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Childhood cancer genomes now available for study

May 30, 2012|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Whole genome sequences of childhood cancers became widely available Tuesday and could help scientists develop personalized therapies.
Whole genome sequences of childhood cancers became widely available Tuesday… (Steve Yeater )

Noting that “children are not just small adults,” researchers at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Washington University have released the complete genomes of 260 St. Jude pediatric cancer patients — as well as the genomes of their tumors — for scientific study.

In a statement released Tuesday, the researchers said that the data “more than doubles the volume of … whole genome data from all human genome sources combined.”

The hope for this and other cancer genomics projects like the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Genome Atlas is to identify the mutations in genes that cause cancer — and, if possible, figure out how to find exactly the right intervention for a patient's specific tumor. Those goals may not be reached for many years, but assembling comprehensive data is a necessary early step, scientists say.

The St. Jude/Washington University collaboration focuses on hard-to-treat pediatric cancers separately, the scientists wrote in an article in Nature Genetics, because the cancers that arise in children differ substantially from those in adults. “A focused project to characterize the landscape of mutations in pediatric cancers is necessary to achieve the goal of advancing cures for pediatric cancers,” they wrote.

At the same time, the data should help researchers understand adult cancers, too, they added.

Earlier this year, Booster Shots reported on early findings from the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, including discoveries about the genetics of early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia and retinoblastomas that might lead to better treatments, St. Jude Chief Executive William Evans said at the time.  

Now outside scientists will also have access to the patient data

See related items at left for more on pediatric cancer and cancer genomics.

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