Healthy Kids Magazine
A renowned researcher harnesses genomic
knowledge to tackle challenging brain tumors
BY CHRISTINA ORLOVSKY PAGE
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
“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.