Gift Puts Genomic Research into High Gear

annual-report-2013-genomic-researchFor more than a decade, the cure rate for pediatric cancer has been stalled at about 80 percent. A multidisciplinary team of specialists at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC is working to find cures for the other 20 percent—and won’t stop until they do.

Thanks to a gift in 2011 of $10 million from Hyundai Motor America, the largest corporate gift in CHOC’s history, Leonard Sender, M.D., medical director of the Cancer Institute, and his team are conducting cutting-edge genomic research to better understand cancers that occur in children and teenagers.

Whole genome (DNA) sequencing of both tumors and healthy tissue and transcriptome (RNA) sequencing of tumors is being conducted to identify the molecular profile of cancers occurring in patients, according to Dr. Sender. The goal is to identify genetic mutations that may be responsible for a child’s cancer, and to determine how cancer cells differ from cells that have mutated but are noncancerous.

Once whole genome and transcriptome sequencing procedures are performed, the data is analyzed by oncologists, cancer epidemiologists, cancer biologists and bioinformaticists. Their aim is to identify treatments and available medications that may be beneficial for the patient based on the molecular profile of the cancer.

“Even if we are unable to identify a treatment that is available now, the information learned may be used to help us better understand what causes cancer and how it may be treated or prevented in the future,” Dr. Sender said.

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Sun Smarts: Kids, Sunscreen and Melanoma

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on August 19, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.

View the full feature



Orange County is one of the sunniest places in California, with hundreds of sun days per year. With that comes the need for protection. Improper protection can increase risk for skin cancer. “People get skin cancers, the most serious being melanoma, because we get too much exposure to the sunlight,” says Dr. Sender. To ward off harmful UVA and UVB rays, use sunscreen. “Most people don’t put enough on,” explains Dr. Sender. “We recommend about an ounce for each area of exposed skin, i.e. leg or arm.”


SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It should be applied liberally and more often than most people think, he explains. “Sunscreen should be put on 30 minutes before you go out in the sun,” says Dr. Sender. So, what’s the magic number? 15? 50? 100? “Never go in the sun with less than SPF 30,” he says. “Use the broad-spectrum variety and reapply every two hours.”


Melanoma accounts for 4% of all skin cancers. Malignant (life-threatening) melanoma starts in cells that produce pigment (color) in skin. It usually begins as a mole that turns cancerous. People with all skin types may be affected, but those who are fair-skinned and burn easily are at a higher risk, says Dr. Sender.


Although melanoma is still rare in kids, parents should make checking for moles part of their monthly routine. Look for Asymmetry, Border, Color and Diameter. “Get to know your child’s skin; if all the moles look the same and one is different, that’s the one you need to worry about,” Dr. Sender says. “It should never be bigger than a pencil eraser.”

With early detection, melanoma is curable, so be safe and use common sense in the sun:

  • Apply sunscreen, even on infants 6 months and older
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats
  • Protect your eyes; wear sunglasses


  • Cases of skin cancer in the U.S. every year: 1.3 Million
  • Percentage of sun rays blocked when SPF 30 is applied: 90%
  • Time of day when the sun is the strongest: 10am – 4pm


CHOC Pediatric Cancer Specialist
Dr. Leonard Sender
CHOC Pediatric
Cancer Specialist


Dr. Sender is the Medical Director of Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC’s Children’s as well as CHOC Children’s Specialists Division chief of Oncology; and Medical Director of Clinical Oncology Services at UC Irvine Medical Center’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. He completed his fellowship in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology including Hematopoietic Progenitor Cell Transplantation.

University of Witwatersrand School of Medicine, South Africa

Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

More about Dr. Sender


Now Cancer Has Nowhere To Hide


The latest super weapon in the fight against cancer, genomic medicine, literally leaves cancer no place to hide. this cutting-edge technology analyzes and develops individual tumor profiles for patients whose cancer has returned.  Oncologists may use this additional genomic data to identify existing treatments or develop new ones.

Last year, Hyundai, and its nonprofit organization, Hope On Wheels,® contributed $10 million toward pediatric cancer research, naming the Hyundai cancer institute at CHOC children’s.  That unprecedented corporate gift let our experts take the search for cancer cures down to the molecular level.

“It took 13 years and $3 billion to sequence the first human genome, but the technology has become much faster and cost-effective in recent years,” said Dr. Sender.  “We have begun sequencing patients whose cancer has returned, giving oncologists remarkable insights into individual tumor profiles.”

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