By Branwyn Wagman

The Treehouse Childhood Cancer Project, part of the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute, has received $30,000 from Unravel Pediatric Cancer to pave the way for accepting individual patient genomes for analysis.

Treehouse Project scientists are developing a genome comparison method that can suggest new treatment leads for childhood cancer patients currently considered terminal.

Unravel executive director and co-founder Libby Kranz said, “The most basic part of any parents job is to protect your child, but when it comes to cancer, parents aren’t armed with the tools to do that properly. The Treehouse project gives parents the potential to find the right weapon to fight their child’s cancer. Saving kids by finding the correct medicine… its really a no brainer and a option we are honored to give other families, even though it is too late for ours.”

Project lead Olena Morozova, a biomolecular engineering postdoctoral scholar in David Haussler’s genomics group said, “This gift will allow us to bring the power of world’s cancer genomics data to individual patients who are not being treated at a large medical center like UCSF or Stanford.”

The method UC Santa Cruz is developing makes it possible to take advantage of the cancer genomics data collected around the world and analyze a child’s tumor genome against both childhood and adult patient cohorts across all types of cancer.

Such comparisons may identify situations where a drug approved for another cancer type is predicted to work for a particular childhood cancer patient who is otherwise out of treatment options.

“We hope our approach will eventually provide new treatment leads and bring new hope to every childhood cancer patient who is out of treatment options today,” Morozova said.

Currently, patients can take advantage of Treehouse data analysis methods only if they are part of existing clinical trials that use DNA sequencing to guide clinical care.

Morozova said, “Individuals not enrolled on one of these trials cannot access this type of data analysis, potentially resulting in missed therapeutic opportunities that are never considered for them.”

The Treehouse Project builds on expertise at UC Santa Cruz in employing genomic data and computational approaches to help identify targeted treatments that are less toxic and more effective than standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy regiments.

The project also builds on several other genomics initiatives led by UC Santa Cruz, such as the UCSC Cancer Genomics Hub, the UCSC Cancer Genomics Browser, and the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health.

Since childhood cancers are rare, the only way to create large patient cohorts for analysis is through sharing data across institutions and globally. Treehouse is developing a platform to enable global data sharing and a network of collaborators committed to using this platform in their clinical and research practice.

Unravel Pediatric Cancer raises awareness about the lack of funding for pediatric cancer research and raises funds to support innovative research alternatives. Their action is inspired by the death of six-year-old Jennifer Lynn Kranz—the daughter of Unravel founder Libby Kranz—from DIPG, a pediatric brain tumor that is currently considered terminal at diagnosis. Jennifer’s struggle inspired Kranz and friends to engage in the fight against pediatric cancer.

Haussler said, “Support such as this from the cancer advocacy community will be essential in carrying out our aim to defeat every child’s cancer through genomic data sharing.”