How Philanthropy Powers Improvements in Patient Care
The Olayan Precision Pediatrics Program at MSK Kids
Childhood and adolescence are times of rapid change, growth, and discovery. When a young person is diagnosed with cancer, this momentum is suddenly interrupted. MSK Kids is committed to returning young people to their everyday lives as quickly as possible, and with the support of philanthropy, we are rapidly developing new and more effective treatments.
A New Generation of Genetic Testing
The Olayan Precision Pediatrics Program, established in 2017 through the generous support of The Olayan Group, helps ensure that all patients cared for at MSK Kids receive leading-edge diagnostic testing to help make precise diagnoses and identify the most promising treatment for each individual. In 2022, research supported by the program was published in a landmark study that is setting the stage for a new era of pediatric cancer care.
While standard genetic testing helps many adults with cancer, it has more limited success with children, adolescents, and young adults. The reason? Many adult cancers are driven by acquired mutations, changes in DNA caused by lifelong exposures to cancer-causing agents in a person’s environment or diet. These changes may affect only a single letter in a DNA sequence, making them easier to identify. In contrast, cancers in young people are more often caused by changes affecting whole sections of chromosomes (the rod-shaped structures that contain DNA), which often fall outside what can be detected by standard tests.
MSK scientists, led by Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Lila Acheson Wallace Chair for Pediatric Research, have developed methods to comprehensively identify mutations that result in the development of pediatric cancers. Whole-genome and transcriptome sequencing (WGTS) evaluates all of the genetic material in a tumor, including both DNA and RNA sequences, providing a view that encompasses a thousand times more information than standard genetic testing, including cancer-causing changes that standard tests cannot detect.
Until recently, this work was extremely time-consuming, taking anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks as of five years ago. But the philanthropic support of The Olayan Group has helped make this testing faster and more accessible. We can now return results in just nine days and less than a week in urgent cases — allowing more children with cancer to be matched with the most promising protocol from the start of treatment.
A Landmark Study
In May 2022, MSK researchers published a study in the journal Nature Communications focused on 114 pediatric, adolescent, and young adult patients with solid tumors that were evaluated using WGTS. Compared to MSK-IMPACT®, our targeted tumor-sequencing test capable of analyzing more than 500 genes associated with cancer, this approach identified at least one additional cancer-associated genetic variant in 54% of patients. For 33 of the patients, WGTS uncovered one or more variations with direct clinical or potentially actionable relevance. While not yet a replacement for standard genetic testing, WGTS is on its way to becoming a go-to diagnostic for children with cancer.
An Opportunity to Improve the Lives of Children With Cancer
The philanthropic support of The Olayan Group and other donors to MSK has an outsize impact on the lives of children with cancer. In addition to improving treatment at MSK Kids, this research expands the knowledge base around the causes of and treatments for pediatric cancers and has laid the groundwork for additional precision medicine efforts within the Lisa and Scott Stuart Center for Adolescent and Young Adult Cancers. MSK is also a key opinion leader and advocate for pediatric genomic data sharing, and we have deposited more than 2,000 genomic data sets into public databases. A gift to MSK today will help ensure that in the future, all children diagnosed with cancer will have more and better treatment options.