Parallel sequencing to identify the causes of childhood cancer.
The first goal of cancer genetics research is to understand why children develop cancer and to identify if specific families or children have an even higher risk of developing cancer. This information impacts the child’s cancer care and determines who else in the family may need increased cancer surveillance to try and detect cancer at its earliest stage. Many cancer susceptibility genes also play a major role in cancer in the general population. Thus, the larger goal of cancer genetics research is to improve our understanding of cancer cells and to identify new targets for treatment.
At the time that this Innovation Project was funded, geneticists had only been able to identify new cancer genes by collecting DNA samples from large numbers of families that have very similar patterns of cancer. This is difficult to do in childhood cancer and there are many families with unusual patterns of cancer that appear to be quite unique. In this Innovation Project, Dr. Plon’s lab investigated the cause of cancer in a set of childhood cancer families including those with more than one child with cancer, a child diagnosed with more than one cancer or a child with cancer and birth defects or learning disabilities. The principal investigator, Dr. Sharon Plon at Baylor College of Medicine and cancer geneticists at MD Anderson Cancer Center and University of Texas Southwestern worked together to enroll families into genetic research protocols.
This Innovation Award was one of the first to use technology originally developed for the Human Genome Project at the Human Genome Sequencing Center (HGSC) at Baylor College of Medicine to perform highly automated DNA sequencing of a large panel of genes known to play some role in cancer. This “high throughput” approach allowed the investigators to identify which families carried mutations in known cancer genes even if the pattern of childhood cancer had not been previously reported with that gene. Results of this research was published in the journal Cancer Genetics and Pediatric Blood and Cancer.
Perhaps more importantly, this Innovation Award allowed this team of researchers to obtain additional research grants which provided funds to perform whole exome and whole genome sequencing of the original set of families and additional families identified by the clinicians in Texas. More recently, Dr. Plon, working with Dr. Donald W. Parsons and the HGSC investigators at Baylor College of Medicine, received an NIH grant to test the utility of clinical exome sequencing of newly diagnosed childhood solid tumor cancer patients at the Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Thus, the ALSF Innovation Award has been an outstanding catalyst for groundbreaking research on the genetic basis of childhood cancer.