When we first talked with Tim Triche of LA Children's Hospital, we found out he was a bit of an outlier among cancer researchers. He was an advocate for poking around in the non-coding RNA.
Today we welcome Tim back to the show to talk about a new gene panel that he has designed specifically for childhood cancers. It’s a first of its kind and was modeled quite closely on the gene panel for the NCI’s MATCH trial. The new panel has both a DNA and an RNA component, and the RNA side is by far the biggest.
"There are 1,400 different amplicons on this panel looking for RNA fusions. Thermo Fisher tells me it’s the most ambitious RNA panel that they’ve ever undertaken," Tim says in today's interview.
"When 100 cancer patients walk in your office, then 100 cancer patients walk in your office," says Tim, quoting a common line in the field that points to the uniqueness of every cancer.
Yet even though every cancer is different, certain biological commonalities combined with better sequencing tools is enabling the design of new gene panels to guide in diagnosis and treatment. More and more a cancer is looked at based on the drug that might treat it rather than the organ in which it grows. The new panel can guide this treatment.
Some of the most important targets on the panel are RNA fusion transcripts. What are they, and why are they so important for helping kids?
Childhood cancers come from inherited mutations, whereas most adult cancers have to do with the skin or the linings of the organs due to mutations caused by environmental impacts. Fusion transcripts are very common in the youth cancers and have been a big part of routine diagnostics.
If a mutation is there early in life, is it likely to turn into cancer sooner rather than later? Yes, says Tim.
“If you look at the incidence of childhood tumors, there’s a big bump in the first months or year or two of life, and then they disappear thereafter."
Additional benefits from these new next gen sequencing panels are that they can work with very small “real world” samples of tumor tissue, and they can also be used as discovery tools. Tim says the panel, called OncoKids, is ready to go for frontline therapy, and is hoping to get the word out to oncologists everywhere.