If there’s a kid with cancer, it’s generally safe to say that cancer was caused by some inherited genetic mutation—a fragment of code that was misread or left out. Finding that mutation, and unlocking the root cause of the disease, is like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. How do you find such a thing, without either a serious guidebook based on the analysis of thousands of other, similar cancer cases, or else a powerful tool to sift through old data and yield insight?
But the thing about childhood cancer is that it's rare. There just isn’t a mountain of data to go through. The data that is there is precious, and compiling it for analysis is a new field within a field that could yield enormous insight in years to come.
That’s why the St. Baldrick's Foundation has been focusing in earnest on precision medicine initiatives of late. The leading all-volunteer cancer charity believes that the road to childhood cancer cures will be paved with projects that do in-depth data analysis, and in the last few years it's been making some serious gifts in these areas, including the $24.7 million gift in 2014 that founded the Genius Award and brought together the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Oregon Health and Science University, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute, and Sage Bionetworks to fight acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
More recently, St. Baldrick's gave $2.5 million to the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative, a Genomics Institute initiative that aims to encourage the sharing of pediatric cancer data. Six clinical partners have signed on to begin sharing data from childhood cancer clinical trials they undertake: Children’s Hospital of Orange County; Stanford University; Pacific Pediatric NeuroOncology Consortium; the Pediatric Personalized Oncogenomics Program of British Columbia; Peds Mi-OncoSeq Program at the University of Michigan Cancer Center; and Molecular Guided Therapy in Neuroblastoma at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
As new data from these trials is entered into the database, it’ll be cross-referenced with data from more than 10,000 tumors that has already been used to populate the data bank.
“Genomic medicine requires massive data sharing and analysis, and that is the emphasis of the Treehouse Initiative,” said David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and scientific director of the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. “It is only by sharing data that we can deploy genomic insights to their full potential in pediatric cancer and other diseases.”