A New Day for Pediatric Brain Cancer Research

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March 20, 2020

Dr. Michael Prados (UCSF), leading scientist with PNOC (Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium) and Dr. Adam Resnick (CHOP), leading scientist with the CBTTC (Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium) share important developments in pediatric cancer research and also a potential shift in the way research is conducted, and funded, particularly with regard to a novel NIH/NCI SPORE grant. Dr. Resnick spoke at a recent congressional briefing, “DIPG, Pediatric Brain Cancer, and the Importance of H. Res. 114”, presenting information regarding the scientific richness and complexity of pediatric brain cancer research as well as the unique challenges that pediatric cancer research in general presents to the way research is currently conducted and funded. Cures remain elusive for children with brain cancer, despite accomplishments in treating leukemia which have led many to boast 80% survival rates for children with cancer.

The hidden story that these scientists expose is that, the field of pediatric brain cancer has been to date funded almost entirely by the collective resources of parents and other philanthropists familiar with its challenges. Although brain cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in children, it remains one of the least-funded areas of cancer research in both the private and public sectors. DIPG, for instance, the 2nd most common pediatric brain tumor, and the deadliest, has seen no change in its standard treatment protocol nor its terminal prognosis since Neil Armstrong’s daughter died of it in 1962. Today, we have the technology to do better, so why don’t we?

Awareness to the urgency of the unmet needs of these children and their families is what the February 13th, 2020 #Moonshot4Kids briefing brought to the table; because of conversations between the scientists of PNOC, CBTTC and NIH/NCI officials who were also present at the briefing, a novel SPORE grant was conceived which would be multi-institutional in reach to target pediatric brain cancer research. Because of the NIH/NCI scientist’s responsiveness, this novel type of grant may indeed serve to altar and expand the paradigm of the way research is normally conducted–to accommodate the urgent, unmet needs of children with cancer. The proposal for the grant is scheduled to be submitted in May of 2020, and currently letters of support are being solicited for the success and approval of the SPORE grant.

Amanda Haddock of DragonMaster Foundation joined the discussion in the second half to speak to the data resources and the sharing capabilities of Cavatica, a cloud-based environment for securely storing, sharing and analyzing large volumes of pediatric brain tumor genomics data. This resource permits global sharing of genomic information, allowing the multi-institutional collaboration necessary for pediatric cancer research. The database infrastructure, a pilot program of DragonMaster Foundation, allows for unlimited future growth and has the capacity to impact all areas of biomedical research. Amanda’s son, David Pearson, died from brain cancer in 2012, a tragedy that brought the need for better research tools to her attention.

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