When Allison’s tumors stopped responding to therapy, her doctors recommended she enter a clinical trial — for an adult drug used to treat melanoma. They based their recommendation on her tumors’ genetic mutation; the same mutation had been observed in some adults with melanoma. This approach is called precision medicine, and as Allison’s doctors treat her tumor, she is helping to them learn about precision medicine.
Allison 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.
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.