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Promise and Progress - 1 Genetics

The Time is Now - Supplement
Issue No. I

1 Genetics

By: Valerie Matthews-Mehl
Date: March 1, 2011

Kenneth Kinzler, Victor Velculescu, Bert Vogelstein, and Nickolas Papadopoulos
Kenneth Kinzler, Victor Velculescu, Bert Vogelstein, and Nickolas Papadopoulos

Our scientists have been the world’s leaders in the genetic analysis of cancer.  Recent breakthroughs have revealed the genetic landscapes of colon, breast, pancreatic, ovarian, neuroendocrine, and brain cancers.  These discoveries have already begun to be translated into personalized therapies. The latest findings, for the first time, provide genetic clues about a common pediatric cancer.

First Pediatric Cancer Genome Mapped
Kimmel Cancer Center scientists have become the first to decipher the genetic code of a pediatric cancer. Using sophisticated new gene sequencing technologies, Victor Velculescu, M.D, Ph.D., and his team in the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics, mapped the genetic sequence of medulloblastoma, the most common type of pediatric brain cancer. As suspected, this analysis shows that genetic changes in pediatric cancers are remarkably different from adult tumors. The work revealed fewer genetic alterations than are typically found in adult tumors, and the researchers believe this may make it easier to use the findings to develop new therapies. The research also uncovered epigenetic alterations, biochemical variations that occur to the environment of genes and have the ability to turn genes on and off without mutating them, as a more significant culprit in pediatric cancer than commonly thought.  Using drugs to block the abnormal biochemical activity can return normal gene function and stop the development of cancer cells. Information like this, gained from gene sequencing technology, could potentially help our team change the course of some relentless childhood cancers. As a result, we hope to continue this work in other pediatric cancers.

Made possible through the support of more than a dozen funders, this work also demonstrates the power of philanthropic support in changing the course of cancer. 

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