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Pediatric Personalized Medicine Project and facing important questions

July 4, 2012

A short while ago, Dr. Aly Karsan blogged about the personalized medicine project. I am also involved in this project, but with a focus in pediatrics. The goal of the project is to probe the genomes, or DNA, of some of the most challenging childhood cancers known, to look at very high risk patients, sequence genomes of the patients to identify so-called actionable alterations, and determine if these alterations in the tumours are there are targetable. Ultimately, we hope this project will reveal better methods of individualizing treatment for pediatric patients.

Funds raised from the BC Cancer Foundation’s Inspiration Gala have provided much-needed support for this project, and as a result we have been able to begin asking more challenging questions.

The personalized treatment approach in childhood cancers raises some key ethical issues, because certain drugs available haven’t been tested in pediatric populations before. In addition to defining specific therapies for childhood cancer patients, the personalized medicine project provides an opportunity to address these important ethical issues.

Because there are already well-defined protocols for treatment through the Children’s Oncology Group network that I mentioned in a previous blog, one of our biggest challenges is determining if we should put pediatric patients on an established protocol or take them off of it and treat them with a drug from our genomic studies.

Parents and families play a major role in this decision-making process, as they ultimately determine the course of treatment for their children, as the latter often has long-term toxic side effects on the patient with current therapies. We do not take these decisions lightly and they require a team effort.

The Pediatric Personalized Medicine Project is able to address these critical questions thanks to funds raised through the Inspiration Gala.