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Catherine-Bollard-SIOP

Advancing cures for pediatric cancer: Highlights from leading Children’s National experts at SIOP 2017

In mid-October 2017, nearly 2,000 clinicians, scientists, nurses, health care professionals and cancer patients and survivors gathered in Washington, D.C., for SIOP 2017, the Annual Congress of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology. For four days, attendees heard from world-renowned experts while exchanging ideas and information, all in the name of advancing cures for childhood cancer.

Hosted in the hometown of Children’s National Health System and chaired by Jeffrey Dome, M.D., Ph.D., Vice President of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and Chief of Oncology at Children’s National Health System, more than 20 doctors and nurses from Children’s National made an impact on participants through a series of widely attended sessions and addresses, including:

  • Symposium lecture on the latest approaches in anti-viral T-cell therapy to improve patient outcomes, given by Catherine Bollard, M.D., M.B.Ch.B.
  • Keynote lecture on DICER1 mutations in pediatric cancer, given by Ashley Hill, M.D., whose study of a rare childhood lung cancer and gene mutations set the stage for a better understanding of microRNA processing gene mutations in the development of pediatric cancer.
  • Education session on new therapies for sarcomas, led by AeRang Kim, M.D., Ph.D., and Karun Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., sharing research on new approaches for local control of sarcomas, such as surgery, radiation and other ablative measures.
  • Education session on new therapies for gliomas, led by Roger J. Packer, M.D., with presentations on immunotherapy from Eugene Hwang, M.D., and targeted therapy by Lindsay Kilburn, M.D.
  • Podium paper presentation on a new method to measure cancer treatment toxicities as reported by the child by Pamela Hinds, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, as well as an education session on advanced care planning, led by Hinds with a presentation from Maureen E. Lyon, Ph.D.

“These sessions and lectures provided a glimpse into the groundbreaking work by SIOP attendees from around the world,” says Dr. Dome. “Children’s National is proud to play an active role in the development of life-saving treatments for children with cancer and our clinicians look forward to another year of revolutionary developments.”

For more on this year’s SIOP, see the Children’s National press release.

  • Jeffrey Dome, M.D., Ph.D., addresses a group of international colleagues at a reception at Children’s National.

    Jeffrey Dome SIOP
  • Catherine Bollard, M.D., M.B.Ch.B., addresses a group of international colleagues at a reception at Children’s National.

    Catherine-Bollard-SIOP
  • Lindsay Kilburn, M.D., engages with peers from around the world at a reception at Children’s National.

    Lindsay-Kilburn-SIOP

Javad Nazarian

Advancing pediatric cancer research by easing access to data

Javad Nazarian

“This is a tremendous opportunity for children and families whose lives have been forever altered by pediatric cancers,” says Javad Nazarian, Ph.D., M.S.C., principal investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine Research and scientific director of the Brain Tumor Institute at Children’s National.

Speeding research into pediatric cancers and other diseases relies not only on collecting good data, but making them accessible to research teams around the world to analyze and build on. Both efforts take time, hard work and a significant amount of financial resources – the latter which can often be difficult to attain.

In a move that could considerably advance the field of pediatric cancer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a body that funds biomedical research in the United States, recently awarded a public-private research collective that includes Children’s National Health System up to $14.8 million to launch a data resource center for cancer researchers around the world in order to accelerate the discovery of novel treatments for childhood tumors. Contingent on available funds, five years of funding will be provided by the NIH Common Fund Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program, named after Gabriella Miller, a 10-year-old child treated at Children’s National.

As principal investigators, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will lead the joint effort to build out the “Kids First” Data Resource Center. Children’s National in Washington, D.C., will spearhead specific projects, including the Open DIPG project, and as project ambassador will cultivate additional partnerships with public and private foundations and related research consortia to expand a growing trove of data about pediatric cancers and birth defects.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for children and families whose lives have been forever altered by pediatric cancers,” says Javad Nazarian, Ph.D., M.S.C., principal investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine Research and scientific director of the Brain Tumor Institute at Children’s National. “From just a dozen samples seven years ago, Children’s National has amassed one of the nation’s largest tumor biorepositories funded, in large part, by small foundations. Meanwhile, research teams have been sequencing data from samples here and around the world. With this infusion of federal funding, we are poised to turn these data into insights and to translate those research findings into effective treatments.”

Today’s NIH grant builds on previous funding that Congress provided to the NIH Common Fund to underwrite research into structural birth defects and pediatric cancers. In the first phase, so-called X01 grantees—including Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., newly named director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National—received funding to sequence genetic data from thousands of patients and families affected by childhood cancer and structural birth defects.

This new phase of funding is aimed at opening access to those genetic sequences to a broader group of investigators around the globe by making hard-to-access data easily available on the cloud. The first project funded will be Open DIPG, run by Nazarian, a single disease prototype demonstrating how the new data resource center would work for multiple ailments.

DIPG stands for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, aggressive pediatric brain tumors that defy treatment and are almost always fatal. Just as crowd sourcing can unleash the collective brainpower of a large group to untangle a problem swiftly, open data sharing could accomplish the same for childhood cancers, including DIPG. In addition to teasing out molecular alterations responsible for making such cancers particularly lethal, pooling data that now sits in silos could help to identify beneficial mutations that allow some children to survive months or years longer than others.

“It’s a question of numbers,” Dr. Vilain says. “The bottom line is that making sense of the genomic information is significantly increased by working through large consortia because they provide access to many more patients with the disease. What is complicated about genetics is we all have genetic variations. The challenge we face is teasing apart regular genetic variations from those genetic variations that actually cause childhood cancers, including DIPG.”

Nazarian predicts some of the early steps for the research consortium will be deciding nuts-and-bolts questions faced by such a start-up venture, such as the best methods to provide data access, corralling the resources needed to store massive amounts of data, and providing data access and cross correlation.

“One of the major challenges that the data resource center will face is to rapidly establish physical data storage space to store all of the data,” Nazarian says. “We’re talking about several petabytes—1,000 terabytes— of data. The second challenge to address will be data dissemination and, specifically, correlation of data across platforms representing different molecular profiles (genome versus proteome, for example). This is just the beginning, and it is fantastic to see a combination of public and private resources in answering these challenges.”

Cancer update: tumor targeting, neurofibromatosis type 1 symptoms

June 6, 2016Targeting tumors more precisely, with fewer lasting side effects for kids
Pediatric patients with cancer are often treated with a cocktail of therapies to attack the disease through a variety of mechanisms. While this approach has been instrumental in saving children’s lives, the life-saving therapies can be accompanied by acute side effects, and the treatments may have lingering impacts as cancer survivors enter adulthood. Magnetic resonance-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound (MR-HIFU) holds the promise of surgically removing large tumors without exacting the same array of harsh side effects. Ultrasound relies on high-frequency sound waves to make diagnostic images, and those same sound waves can be used therapeutically to destroy tumors. Layering on MR imaging gives clinicians the ability to precisely guide the ultrasound therapy in real time. A study led by Children’s National Health System researchers and clinicians is using MR-HIFU for the first time in children to examine its safety and feasibility.

May 11, 2016 – Quantitative MRI criteria for optic pathway enlargement in neurofibromatosis type 1
Symptoms of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) vary widely, but the condition is characterized by changes in skin pigmentation and growth of tumors along nerves. The research team sought to determine quantitative size thresholds for enlargement of the optic nerve, chiasm, and tract in children aged 0.5 to 18.6 years with NF1. The study, published in Neurology, found that quantitative reference values for anterior visual pathway enlargement will enhance development of objective diagnostic criteria for optic pathway gliomas secondary to NF1.

Allergy and immunology update: asthma care, microbial signatures

June 16, 2016 – Increased identification of the primary care provider as the main source of asthma care among urban minority children
The research team used electronic communication between an asthma specialty clinic and short-term care coordination to encourage parents of urban youth with asthma to identify their primary care provider as the key source for episodic asthma care – rather than the emergency department. Guardians of 50 children were enrolled in the prospective cohort study, whose findings were published in Journal of Asthma. The youths’ median age was 5.8 years; 64 percent were male, 98 percent were African American. At three and six months after the intervention, 85 percent and 83 percent, respectively, reported that the primary care provider was their child’s primary asthma healthcare provider, compared with 70 percent at baseline. 

June 16, 2016 – Two sampling methods yield distinct microbial signatures in the nasopharynges of asthmatic children
The nasopharynx acts as an anatomical reservoir from which pathogenic microbes spread to the lower and upper respiratory airways, causing respiratory infections. A team led by Children’s National researchers used targeted 16S rRNA MiSeq sequencing and two techniques – nasal washes and nasal brushes – to characterize the nasopharyngeal microbiota in 30 children with asthma aged 6 to 17. The authors report in Microbiome that the children’s nasopharyngeal microenvironments contain microbiotas with different diversity and structure.

Nov. 30, 2015 – Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation grant to develop immune-based therapy
Physician-scientist Conrad Russell Y. Cruz, MD, PhD, was awarded a $450,000, grant from the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to develop novel cell-based therapies to combat pediatric cancer. The “A” grant encourages scientists to develop innovative treatments and cures that impact children with cancer and will provide Dr. Cruz and his team funding for three years.