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Healthy Kids Magazine


Summer 2017



A renowned researcher harnesses genomic

knowledge to tackle challenging brain tumors


magine a world where the cause of devastating pediatric brain tumors

could be pinpointed to single genetic mutations. Where a treat-

ment could be personalized to the individual patient and tumor, and

where potentially lethal long-term side effects could be eliminated.

Where children and families could face a brain cancer diagnosis with

optimism, knowing their chances of survival were vastly improved by

the power of the human genome. That world is within reach, thanks to

the Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine’s (RCIGM) Joseph Clayes

III Research Center for Neuro-Oncology and Genomics and its new program

director, Robert Wechsler-Reya, PhD.

From the Lab to the Bedside

A long-time researcher, professor and director of the Tumor Initiation and

Maintenance Program at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Insti-

tute in La Jolla, Dr. Wechsler-Reya brings to his new appointment two decades

of laboratory research on the molecular mechanisms that regulate cell

growth and transform healthy cells into cancer cells. The position at

RCIGM allows him to take his work out of the lab and into the

clinical environment.

“My research lab focuses on pediatric brain tumors—

what causes them, what drives them, and what we can

do to stop them,” he explains. “This is an opportunity I’ve

been seeking for years—translating the work in my lab to

help children suffering from disease.”

A Devastating Diagnosis

For decades, leukemia was the most deadly cancer

among children ages 1 to 19. That changed in 2016,

when the Centers for Disease Control and Preven-

tion found that brain cancers had topped the list.

This doesn’t indicate an increase in diagnoses;

childhood brain tumors are still considered rare.

In fact, Rady Children’s sees roughly 50 to 60

newly diagnosed brain cancer patients each

year, according to John Crawford, MD, MS, the

Hospital’s director of pediatric neuro-oncology

and of the neurology fellowship program. Still,

prognoses are often grim.