Chasing Away Childhood Cancer

Could Next Generation Genomic Sequencing be the route to finding a cure for cancer?

Historically, variations on Next Generation Genomic Sequencing have helped doctors and researchers to not only understand, but also treat the underlying causes of various neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism. Recent studies have also shown successes in its application in reversing mutations that cause blindness, making cells resistant to the virus that causes AIDS and in preventing certain forms of cancer cells from multiplying.  But what is Next Generation Genomic Sequencing, and how can it help to treat and potentially cure neuroblastoma and other forms of cancer?

Our bodies are made up of thousands of strands of deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. The combination or sequencing of these DNA structures, together, creates the genetic code. This code contains genes that determine both our physical appearance, the color of our eyes, our hair, our height, as well as non-physical traits such as our aptitude to play an instrument or work out math problems. But our DNA also influences our susceptibility to illnesses such as neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Next Generation Genomic Sequencing is a technique that allows researchers to break down the genetic coding and DNA structures of those abnormal or damaged cells found in the tissue samples from tumor biopsies. By breaking them down, and comparing healthy genomes to diseased genomes, researchers are able to determine the genetic makeup of tumor DNA and what causes it. “DNA forms the building blocks of life,” says Dr. Jacqueline Kraveka, at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). “They are like a finger print; unique to each of us. The ability to genetically examine individual DNA samples means that we are able to not only tailor treatments to individual needs, increasing the chances of remission, but also understand the underlying causes of different forms of the disease in different individuals.”

Research that utilizes genome sequencing, conducted by the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium (NMTRC), has demonstrated promising results in its application. A recent trial study set out to evaluate the feasibility of molecular guided therapy, and to investigate how personalized medicine can help researchers to find new treatments and potentially a cure for various forms of cancer, including pediatric neuroblastoma. “The benefits of a molecular-guided treatment plan are easy to conceptualize. It’s a more targeted approach that reduces unnecessary intervention, and has the potential for improved outcomes,” quotes the NMTRC in their study results. Observations made as a result of the study clearly demonstrated the benefits of personalized treatment. “The precision approach resulted in less severe side effects than were observed in children who received non targeted therapy.” Thanks to advancements in medical technology, not only are researchers able to analyze the differences between healthy cells and cancerous ones, they can also identify the genetic abnormalities that cause the disease. “Although further studies are needed, there is no doubt that genomic sequencing will play a vital role in the continued chase for a cure,” states Dr. Kraveka.

Dr. Kraveka is the vice-chair of the NMTRC study 012: PEDS-­‐PLAN -­‐ Pediatric Precision Laboratory Advanced Neuroblastoma Therapy. A Pilot Study Using Molecular-­‐Guided Therapy along with Induction Chemotherapy for Subjects with Newly Diagnosed High-­‐Risk Neuroblastoma. This is the first clinical trial to utilize molecular profiling in newly diagnosed pediatric cancer patients. This breakthrough study will incorporate molecular profiling of the patient’s tumor at diagnosis, and add a targeted agent to the standard treatment of children with newly diagnosed high-­‐risk neuroblastoma.  It is hoped that this “targeted” approach will further improve cure rates for these children.

According to, every one of us has potential cancer cells in our body, so the risk of exposure is high. As one of the leading causes of death in America, statistics show that one in every three women, and one in every two men, will suffer from some form of the disease. One in five female cases and one in four male cases will result in death. “The ongoing support of technology and government is vital to the advancement of a cure. But, it isn’t enough,” says Dr. Kraveka. Funding for cancer research, particularly in pediatric related cancers, only receives 4% of government cancer funding support. And, according to, approximately 10,380 children in the United States under the age of 15 were diagnosed with cancer in 2015, of which 1,250 did not survive. “The efforts of research organizations like the NMTRC, and contributions from charitable establishments like Chase after a Cure, are fundamental to not only discovering new approaches, such as genome sequencing, that can help to treat and beat pediatric cancers, but also to the continued well-being of society as a whole.”

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