Here are four major breakthroughs in the fight against cancer that recently took place at Children's Hospital Boston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, joined together as Dana-Farber/Children's Cancer Care.
In the Brain Tumor Clinic at Children's Hospital Boston, Scott Pomeroy, MD, PhD, associate in Neurology, sees cancer patients with learning disabilities, hearing problems and cataracts, all because the treatment they received for medulloblastomas, the most common type of malignant brain tumor in childhood, also damaged healthy parts of their brains.
Three years ago, Pomeroy turned to Todd Golub, MD, assistant in Medicine at Children's and an oncologist from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to see if together they could treat patients' tumors without destroying the good tissue around them. Golub had developed a technique called microarray expression profiling, which determines the genetic "fingerprint" of individual cancer types, and together they found that the technology can accurately identify different types of brain tumors; but that's not all. "Much more important," says Pomeroy, "we are able to predict, at the time of the original diagnosis, the clinical outcome of medulloblastomas with much greater accuracy than is currently possible."
This allows physicians to identify not only the patients who have poor prognoses and will need aggressive therapy, but also the "good risk" patients whose tumors will respond to lower levels of radiation and chemotherapy, thereby killing the cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue alone.
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature in January, but Golub and Pomeroy see this as only a first step. "It's important not only for medulloblastoma," says Golub, "it also suggests that such signatures are likely to be detectable for other cancers as well."
In the 55 years since the first successful remission of pediatric leukemia occurred at Children's Hospital Boston, the combined pediatric cancer program known as Dana-Farber Children's Hospital Cancer Care (DF/CHCC), has led the world in survival rates for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood malignancy.
A new five-year $15.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will help that success continue.
Stephen Sallan, MD, chief medical officer of DF/CHCC, says the grant will have a profound effect on ALL research. "Although we've made vast improvements in our ability to treat this disease—to the point where more than 80 percent of all children are now cured—we need to get cure rates even higher and reduce the toxic side effects of current treatments."
ALL strikes about 1,500 children a year in the United States. It occurs when bone marrow loses the ability to produce enough red and white blood cells and platelets, causing patients to have fever, fatigue, aching joints and persistent infections. Below are brief descriptions of the seven projects funded by the grant.