The right tools are essential to the success of any project, especially for researchers working to understand cancer’s origins and vulnerabilities.
Researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital created the Childhood Solid Tumor Network to make sure investigators worldwide have more of the tools necessary to make much-needed progress against tumors of the bone, muscle, kidney, eye and other organs. The network gives researchers around the globe access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of scientific resources for studying pediatric solid tumors and their related biology.
The tumor samples, plus information about tumor drug sensitivity and related data, have all been generated at St. Jude with the help of patients and families. The resources are available at no cost and carry no obligation to collaborate with St. Jude scientists.
Since the network’s creation in 2013, more than 800 tumor samples, along with detailed related information, have been distributed to more than 130 investigators at 66 research centers. The scientists are in the U.S. and 10 countries in Asia, Australia and Europe. Investigators are responsible only for shipping costs.
“We began this project to develop more accurate laboratory models to help us make the most of the discoveries made in the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project and advance treatment, especially for young patients whose solid tumors recur,” said Michael Dyer, Ph.D., chair of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
While overall survival rates for young solid tumor patients are 75 percent, survival rates for patients whose tumors return have been stalled at less than 30 percent for more than 20 years.
“There have been significant advances in the past 25 years in understanding the most common adult solid tumors like breast, lung, colon and prostate cancer. But much less is known about childhood solid tumors, which are rare and begin in developing tissue throughout the body,” Dyer said.
Since 2010, researchers have produced almost 100 different solid tumors representing a dozen pediatric cancers. The list includes 18 new samples of the eye tumor retinoblastoma and another 20 new samples of the bone tumor osteosarcoma. That is an increase from the two cell lines widely used to study retinoblastoma and the five cell lines used to study osteosarcoma.
Dyer and Alberto Pappo, M.D., of the St. Jude Department of Oncology, are co-leaders of the St. Jude Developmental Biology and Solid Tumor Program. They work with an advisory panel to oversee and respond to requests for access to the tumor samples and related information.
The samples are from St. Jude patients. These samples were grown, with the permission of patients and parents, by injecting tumor cells from patients into the corresponding organ in mice. For example, cells from patients with the muscle tumor rhabdomyosarcoma were grown in the muscle of mice. Cells from patients with the bone tumor osteosarcoma were grown in the bone of mice. The mice serve as laboratory models to help speed advances in understanding and treating the disease in humans.
Along with creating the network, researchers developed a new method to use the tumors to identify drugs or drug combinations that show the most treatment potential. The resulting database includes more than 500,000 pieces of information about drug sensitivity alone. It is believed to be the only searchable drug-sensitivity database for pediatric tumors that is free to the global biomedical research community.
Research to advance understanding and treatment of childhood solid tumors continues. The pediatric solid tumor repository is adding samples as new patients arrive at St. Jude and agree to participate.
The work that went into creating the network was reported in the science journal Nature. The effort was funded by the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. St. Jude launched the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in 2010 to decipher the complete cancer and normal genomes of hundreds of young patients. The project focused on some of the least understood and most difficult to treat tumors.
“The Childhood Solid Tumor Network that grew out of this effort is a unique resource for the international biomedical research community,” Dyer said. “The work is a reflection of our vision of sharing data, resources and expertise to advance biomedical research around the world.”