Stories about: precision medicine

How precision medicine turned Jesus’ unique tumor into an operable one

Jesus stands on a playground jungle gym in August 2017, after a cancerous tumor was removed surgicallyOn a hot, August day in a Boston park, Jesus Apolinaris Cruz cooled off with a water squirt gun fight with his mother and sister. As he nimbly ran and dodged their aim, he twisted around to sneak shots of water back in their direction.  Peals of laughter rang out from the group as Jesus landed a jet of water on his sister.

It’s hard to imagine that just weeks earlier, Jesus, 13, had undergone surgery near his hip to remove an unclassified tumor, so-described because it couldn’t be categorized as any specific kind of cancer.

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Allison’s story: Precision medicine, hope and inspiration

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We are honored U.S. News & World Report has named Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center the #1 pediatric cancer program in the U.S.

As we celebrate this honor, we’re reflecting on some of the greatest children’s stories ever told — stories of the patients and families whose lives touch ours and inspire us.

Allison, a pediatric cancer survivor, is one of those patients.

This hip-hop loving third grader is a pediatric brain tumor survivor and a precision medicine pioneer.

Allison is examined by nurse Maryann Zimmerman.
Allison is examined by nurse Maryann Zimmerman.

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.

Read more of the greatest children’s stories ever told, and share yours.

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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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