Genome Data From St. Jude’s Children Hospital Aids Researchers
Connie K. Ho for RedOrbit.com
Like the old slogan says, sharing is caring. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and the Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project recently announced that it would share its comprehensive human cancer genome data for free access by the scientific community to be used in research regarding cancer and other diseases. The release of data is the largest-ever by an organization and the amount of information more than doubles the volume of high-coverage, whole genome data that is currently available from all the human genome sources.
The 520 genomes sequences are from 260 pediatric cancer patients and are composed of matched sets of normal and tumor tissue samples. By the end of the year, the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project will have sequenced more than 1,200 genomes. Each sample is sequenced at a certain level of quality to make sure that there is maximum accuracy. St. Jude’s researchers are also working on analyzing the genomic sequences to find out the differences between each child’s normal and cancerous cells. The team hopes that this study will allow them to better understand the causes of a number of fatal childhood cancers.
“This effort has generated more discoveries than we thought possible,” remarked Dr. James Downing, the St. Jude scientific director who led the project at St. Jude, in a prepared statement. “We want to make this information available to the broader scientific community so that, collectively, we can explore new treatment options for these children. By sharing the information even before we analyze it ourselves, we’re hoping that other researchers can use this rich resource for insights into many other types of diseases in children and adults.”
The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project was first launched in early 2010 to investigate the genetic origins of childhood cancers. With an estimated cost of $65 million, the project will run for three years. Prior to the release of information by St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the open access of the data was mostly permitted to government-funded research projects. The sequence data is available to researchers through the web-based European Genome-Phenome Archive.
“Setting this precedent reflects a commitment to freely sharing information that has been a hallmark of St. Jude since we opened our doors 50 years ago,” noted Dr. William Evans, St. Jude director and CEO, in a statement. “The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project is a one-of-a-kind effort, so the information has the potential to accelerate disease research worldwide.”
Unlike other cancer genome projects that have focused on solely genes, the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project has focused on sequencing the entire genome in each participant’s tumor; this allows researchers to have a more complete understanding of the development of each patient’s disease.
“This approach has been more valuable that anyone could have predicted,” explained Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of The Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine, in the statement. “We have identified unusual, ‘cryptic’ changes in many patients’ cancer cells that we would not have found using other methods. We are pleased to be able to share this data with the research community in hopes that others can build upon our initial discoveries.”
There has been significant information discovered as a result of the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. Researchers have been able to distinguish the differences between adult and pediatric cancers. They have also gained more understanding of different childhood cancers of the brainstem, blood, and retina.
“These findings would not have been possible without the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project,” commented Downing.