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In precision medicine, pioneering young patient teaches veteran doctor

precision medicineAllison seems an unlikely candidate to teach medicine to Mark Kieran. She’s an 8-year-old New Hampshire second grader who loves basketball, hip hop, acrobatic dancing and jewelry. He’s a pediatric neuro-oncologist with a PhD in molecular biology, not to mention decades of clinical and research experience. But teach Kieran, Allison does.

In December 2012, Allison was diagnosed with metastatic anaplastic astrocytoma brain tumors — two on her brain stem, two on her spine, and three at the top of her head. She had surgery and chemotherapy — and for two months her tumors responded to therapy. Then treatment stopped working.

Genomic testing revealed Allison’s tumors had a genetic mutation — a so-called BRAF mutation — seen in some cases of the skin cancer melanoma, which mainly affects adults.

Kieran, clinical director of the Brain Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, suggested enrolling Allison on a clinical trial of dabrafenib, a drug targeting the BRAF mutation in melanoma patients.

She would be the first pediatric brain tumor patient in the world to join the trial.

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