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 Children’s 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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State-Of-The-Art Fertility Options Available at CHOC

Oncofertility is a relatively new field that studies how cancer treatments affect fertility. After all, chemotherapy and radiation may be crucial tools for beating cancer. However, they can also damage reproductive organs. One of the biggest problems cancer survivors face is fertility preservation. Some of the most advanced oncofertility services in the world are available right here in our community – at CHOC Childrens’s, as part of its Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program.

The program has long offered fertility solutions for males. Female patients, however, face a more difficult challenge. “For a long time, we didn’t understand how chemotherapy affected the ovaries,” says Leonard Sender, M.D., medical director of CHOC Children’s Cancer Institute. “Over the last few years, however, the science has advanced considerably.”

One option for older adolescent patients is egg harvesting, similar to that used for standard infertility treatments. However, the procedure takes at least two to three weeks, before chemotherapy can begin. Most teens (who often have aggressive cancers) can’t wait that long.

Fortunately, there’s a new option for female patients who have started their period (typically 12 years old): ovarian cryopreservation. Here, doctors remove and freeze one of the ovaries. In the future, the ovary may be re-implanted and then “jump-started” to begin producing eggs again. It sounds like science fiction, but the procedure has been successful in older women. As part of an ongoing research program with the national Oncofertility Consortium, CHOC now offers this option to AYA patients.

“These young girls may only need to think about fertility 10 years from now, but in that time the technology will improve, and re-implantations will be even more successful,” says Dr. Sender. “What we know is that we have this brief moment before we start chemotherapy to preserve a patient’s fertility. We are very excited to be participating in this cutting-edge research, and I believe it will become a major part of our survivor program.”

To find out more about the oncofertility program at CHOC, please call 714-456-8025.