St. Jude Children's Research Hospital And Washington University Team To Unravel Genetic Basis Of Chi

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26th January 2010, 05:31am - Views: 1467

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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Washington University Team to Unravel Genetic Basis of

Childhood Cancers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. and ST. LOUIS, Jan. 25 /PRNewswire-AsiaNet/ --

           Largest research project to date aimed at understanding the

                    genetic origins of pediatric cancers

    St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Washington University School of

Medicine in St. Louis, today announced an unprecedented effort to identify

the genetic changes that give rise to some of the world's deadliest childhood

cancers. The team has joined forces to decode the genomes of more than 600 childhood cancer patients who have

contributed tumor samples for this historic effort. 

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    The St. Jude Children's Research Hospital - Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project is the

largest investment to date --

estimated to cost $65 million over three years -- aimed at understanding the

genetic origins of childhood cancers. Scientists involved in the project will

sequence the entire genomes of both normal and cancer cells from each patient, comparing differences in the DNA

to identify genetic mistakes that lead to cancer. Kay Jewelers, a long-standing supporter of St. Jude Children's

Research Hospital, has committed to providing $20 million as lead sponsor of this project.

    "We are on the threshold of a revolution in our understanding of the origins of cancer. For the first time in history,

we have the tools to

identify all of the genetic abnormalities that turn a white blood cell into a

leukemia cell or a brain cell into a brain tumor," said Dr. William E. Evans,

St. Jude director and chief executive officer. "We believe it is from this

foundation that advances for 21st century cancer diagnosis and treatment will


    St. Jude is home to one of the world's largest and most complete

repositories of biological information about childhood cancer. The collection

dates to the 1970s and includes more than 50,000 tumor, bone marrow, blood

and other biological samples. These samples are essential to efforts to

understand the origins of cancer. The tissue bank has also helped St. Jude

scientists develop the experimental models expected to be important for

determining which mutations drive cancer's development and spread.

    The collaboration focuses on childhood leukemias, brain tumors and tumors

of bone, muscle and other connective tissues called sarcomas. St. Jude will

provide DNA from tumor and normal tissues of patients, Washington

University's Genome Center will perform the whole genome sequencing, and both

will participate in validation sequencing. Researchers at both institutions

will collaborate to analyze the data and make the information publicly

available once validated. Prior research by this group and others indicates

that the many genetic abnormalities in childhood cancers will differ from

those found in adult cancers.

    "This extraordinary partnership will add a new dimension to our

understanding of childhood cancers," says pediatric geneticist Dr. Larry J.

Shapiro, executive vice chancellor and dean of Washington University School

of Medicine. "A genome-wide understanding of cancer offers great promise for

developing powerful new approaches to diagnose and treat cancer or perhaps

even to prevent it. In the short term, the project will yield key genetic

information that may ultimately help physicians choose the best treatment

options for young cancer patients."

    Scientists at Washington University's Genome Center pioneered

whole-genome sequencing of cancer patients' genomes. In 2008, they became the

first to decode the complete genome of a cancer patient - a woman with

leukemia - and trace her disease to its genetic roots. They have since

sequenced the genomes of additional cancer patients, including those with

breast, lung and ovarian tumors and glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor.

These studies have identified intriguing and unexpected genetic connections

between patients with different types of cancer that likely would not have

been discovered using conventional approaches.

    Earlier research to identify cancer mutations has typically focused only

on the few hundred genes already suspected of being involved in the disease.

While a few recent studies have involved sequencing the 20,000 or so

protein-coding genes in the genome, the whole-genome approach involved in

this collaboration provides a more detailed and complete picture of all the

mutations involved in a patient's cancer by examining both the protein-coding

genes and the long stretches of DNA between genes, which may influence the

ways the genes work. Such complete genomic sequencing is now possible because

of recent advances that have made the technology faster and far less


    Researchers involved in the project also will investigate how pediatric

cancer is influenced by variations in the genome, including epigenetic

changes, which alter the expression of genes but not the genes themselves.

They also will use DNA sequencing data to identify genetic markers that can

help physicians decide the best treatment options for cancer patients, based

on the genetic profile of their tumors.

    The project's scope and design reflects the philosophies and talents of

the institutions involved. St. Jude and Washington University have a history

of scientific collaboration and a track record of innovation in patient care.

They also share a commitment to excellence and openness in research. The

pediatric genome project will include a public database where information,

once validated, will be shared with the international scientific community,

with the goal of accelerating progress against childhood cancer.

    While great progress has been made in treating childhood cancer, it is

still the leading cause of death from disease among U.S. children over one

year of age, and cure rates for some childhood cancers remain below 50


    St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

    St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is internationally recognized for

its pioneering research and treatment of children with cancer and other

catastrophic diseases. Ranked the No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital by Parents

magazine, St. Jude is the first and only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer

Center devoted solely to children, and has treated children from all 50

states and from around the world. St. Jude has developed research protocols

that helped push overall survival rates for childhood cancer from less than

20 percent when the hospital opened to almost 80 percent today. St. Jude is

the national coordinating center for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and

the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. In addition to pediatric cancer

research, St. Jude is also a leader in sickle cell disease research and is a

globally prominent research center for influenza.

    Founded in 1962 by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude freely

shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the

world, publishing more research articles than any other pediatric cancer

research center in the United States. St. Jude treats over 5,400 patients

each year, and is the only pediatric cancer research center where families

never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. St. Jude is financially

supported by thousands of individual donors, organizations and corporations

without which the hospitals' work would not be possible. For more information

    Washington University School of Medicine and its Genome Center

    Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer

faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis

Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical

research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently

ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its

affiliations with Barnes-Jewish Hospital, currently ranked ninth among the

nation's best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, and St. Louis Children's

Hospital, named among the nation's elite pediatric hospitals by U.S. News &

World Report, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare. Washington

University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital are also home to the Siteman Cancer

Center, a federally designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more


    The Genome Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St.

Louis is a world leader in high-speed, large-scale sequencing of genomes,

from primitive bacteria to complex humans. The Center played a key role in

the Human Genome Project, contributing 25 percent of the finished sequence.

The Center currently receives substantial funding from the National

Institutes of Health for research that includes the Cancer Genome Atlas

Project, to sequence the DNA of adult cancer patients and their tumors to

identify the genetic changes important to cancer; the Human Microbiome

Project, to sequence the genomes of bacteria involved in human health and

disease; and the 1,000 Genomes Project, to catalog the immense human

variation written into the genetic code. For more information,

    SOURCE:      St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

    CONTACT:     St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

                 Public Relations Department




                 Washington University School of Medicine

                 Joni Westerhouse


                 Mobile: +1-314-791-3537




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