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NWO grant: database for pediatric cancer research

The Princess Máxima Center receives a Scientific Infrastructure Grant from NWO for a project to make DNA data on childhood cancer available for research. Dr. Patrick Kemmeren is leading the project from his research group. 'This project is at the basis of follow-up research into new DNA abnormalities that can make a difference for diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer,' he says.  

For all children treated at the Máxima, we ask parents' permission to collect body material and data for research. Scientists at the Máxima read the complete DNA from the child's tumor cells and healthy cells. They then look for DNA abnormalities that occur specifically in the tumor. Analyzing such information from a large number of children can provide clues for better diagnosis, giving the right treatment, and targets for new therapies.  

Basis for follow-up research  

Within the new NWO project, a team led by Patrick Kemmeren is building a data collection consisting of more than 4,000 childhood cancer genomes. These are the genetic data of children in whom cancer has been or will be diagnosed for the first time or came back between 2019 and 2028. The Máxima Biobank currently stores tissue from more than 2,500 children with cancer. 'For a large number of childhood cancers, we know which DNA abnormalities play an important role in childhood cancer,' says Kemmeren. 'But there are also many forms for which we do not know, or only partially know. We also still know very little about how such abnormalities can alter the activity of certain genes, and how they contribute to the development of childhood cancer. That's why in this project we are going to collect large-scale data on the DNA abnormalities, gene activity and clinical data of children with cancer,' he says. 'In this way, we are building a foundation for follow-up research into new DNA abnormalities that could make a difference for diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer.'  

 Genetic and clinical data  

 In addition to genetic data - the extracted DNA and RNA of children with cancer - clinical data will also be added to the database. For example, lab values, but also age at diagnosis, the exact tumor type and gender of the child. 'Often this is only partially done,' says Kemmeren. 'In our new database, we will link the genetic and clinical data properly, though. That way we can better use the patterns and abnormalities we find in the lab to predict how the tumor behaves clinically.'  

In the cloud  

The large scale and international availability for research are important elements of the project, he says. 'Childhood cancer is fortunately a rare disease and also consists of many different forms of cancer. That also makes it very difficult in many cases to collect sufficient numbers to conduct research.' By bringing all pediatric cancer care and research in the Netherlands together in the Princess Máxima Center, an important step has already been taken in bringing all data together. Kemmeren: 'Jointly with our international colleagues, we ultimately want to bring together data on at least 10,000 pediatric tumors. We do this in the cloud. This makes the data easily accessible for our trusted collaboration partners. And more importantly, it ensures that we can always supervise the safe use of the data of children treated at Máxima ourselves.'

Dr. Patrick Kemmeren receives NWO funding of 3.1 million euros, from the research program Scientific Infrastructure: national consortia for the project, called The Dutch Comprehensive Childhood Cancer Commons (NL-4C): a national resource for tackling pediatric cancer worldwide.