Illumina: Children's Mercy Kansas City tackles the unique complexity of pediatric cancer
“Pediatricians like to say children are not little adults, and accordingly, pediatric cancer is not just the miniature form of adult cancer,” says Midhat Farooqi, MD, PhD, Director of Molecular Oncology, Genomic Medicine Center at Children’s Mercy Kansas City in Missouri. Historically, less attention and expertise have been devoted to researching cancer in children than adults, but Children’s Mercy is helping lead the effort to change that.
From its humble beginnings in 1897 with just one bed, the hospital has grown to 390 inpatient beds and 16 locations. It had 14,345 pediatric admissions in 2022—60% of them for patients less than 10 years old—who traveled to the hospital with their families from all 50 US states.
Children’s Mercy also pursues leading-edge research. In 2015, it established the Children’s Mercy Research Institute, founded and led by Tom Curran, PhD, FRS, Senior Vice President, Executive Director, Chief Scientific Officer, and Donald J. Hall Eminent Scholar in Pediatric Research. The Institute supports the launch of ambitious initiatives like Genomic Answers for Kids (GA4K), headed by Tomi Pastinen, MD, PhD, Dee Lyons/Missouri Endowed Chair in Pediatric Genomic Medicine.
The program’s goal is to sequence 30,000 children and their parents, and it just passed the milestone of providing more than 1,000 rare disease diagnoses to families; it largely addresses cases of rare genetic disease, but, as Farooqi points out, “Pediatric cancer is also a rare disease,” and the program is enrolling cancer patients as well.
Currently, the hospital is conducting 137 studies and trials—49 of which are in oncology—and developing databases that are crucial for research. In 2017, Erin Guest, MD, Director of the Children’s Mercy Cancer Genomics Program, and Alexander Kats, MD, Director of Nephropathology and Transplantation Pathology Services, set up a pediatric oncology biobank for storing both solid tumor and leukemic samples. This biobank is now part of the Research Institute’s CAP-accredited Biorepository, which is overseen by John David Nolen, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
To date, over 500 patients have enrolled and Farooqi and his team have performed whole-genome and whole-exome sequencing on 200 of them. Children’s Mercy, which is the pediatric consortium partner of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, was awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute to share this genomic data as part of the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative. Farooqi explains, “Collecting and sharing data nationally and beyond is really important for pediatric cancer because the numbers are low—it can take a few years for the university to register a dozen children with a single tumor type, whereas for adults, let’s say, the same number of cases could be accrued within a month. If we all work together, we can amass higher numbers of rare tumor types within pediatrics as well.”
Read the full article via Illumina