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Meddling with medulloblastoma
March 2013
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Another childhood cancer is coming under fire thanks to a new partnership, with NextBio, the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and the Aflac Cancer Center teaming up to target medulloblastoma, the most common type of brain tumor seen in children. The partners will use NextBio Clinical for the interpretation of molecular and genomic data from children with medulloblastoma in hopes of finding biomarkers capable of predicting the cancer's metastasis.  
"Emory and the Aflac Cancer Center's ability to perform genomic studies on patients and then to use NextBio Clinical's correlation engine to compare the genomic profile of primary tumors with that of metastatic tumors, both across our data and across the large amount of data that NextBio has curated from the public domain, makes achieving our goal of improving outcomes for people with medulloblastoma seem nearer in sight," says Dr. Tobey MacDonald, director of the Brain Tumor Program at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, associate professor of Pediatrics at Emory University and principal investigator of the study.
Medulloblastoma is the most common pediatric brain tumor, and primarily affects children between the ages of five and nine years. This high-grade type of tumor affects approximately 500 children in the United States each year, and accounts for 20 percent of all brain tumors in children under the age of 19. Though genetic and chromosomal changes have been identified that might play a role in its growth, the cause of medulloblastoma is unknown, and there is no way to predict its metastasis.
The current standard of care for pediatric patients, after removing as much of the tumor surgically as possible, is radiation therapy. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, "with current therapies, 70 percent to 80 percent of children with average-risk medulloblastoma can be expected to be alive and free of disease five years from diagnosis. Even in those children with high-risk disease, effective therapy is possible and results in long-term disease control in as high as 60 percent to 65 percent of patients."  
However, as noted by MacDonald in a press release, "The problem with giving radiation to all children with medulloblastoma is that it causes long-term side effects and toxicity in young growing brains." The discovery of biomarkers combined with a summary of each patient's data would allow physicians to predict whether a child stands to benefit from radiation therapy enough to make it worth the risk of associated damage.  
That's where NextBio comes in. NextBio Clinical will gather the data collected on patients and will condense it into a usable report, says Saeid Akhtari, president, CEO and co-founder of NextBio. The company collects the data in an anonymized, private cloud that is HIPAA-compliant.
"We take the individual patient's clinical data and molecular profiling data, and we generate a report for the tumor board, for pathologists or oncologists, that would help the decision process for that individual patient," says Akhtari.
The issue with genomic profiling, according to Akhtari, is the sheer amount of data that is generated and how to handle it. Combining the molecular profiling and clinical data means scientists "could have billions of data points" for each patient. It is difficult to work with so much data, and for most researchers there is also an issue of how to compare such volumes of data between patients, says Akhtari.  
"NextBio Clinical platform uses a big-data technology approach to solve exactly these types of perplexing problems that doctors and researchers have spent years trying to address," Dr. Alpana Verma-Alag, head of clinical development at NextBio, said in a press release. "This study will look at clinical and genomic data from real patients, as well as data from mouse models and frozen human tissue samples, and then will correlate these data sets with other data from the public domain. Our goal at NextBio has been to not only make this type of study possible, but also to make it very easy and efficient to perform. To help change the course of a cancer that largely affects children would be a great accomplishment, and NextBio is very proud to be part of such an effort."
Code: E031303



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