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Seattle Children’s Opens New Center for Childhood Cancer Research

July 14, 2011

Center’s immunotherapy research may eliminate the need for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation

Today, Seattle Children’s Research Institute announced the opening of the Center for Childhood Cancer Research. In tandem, Michael Jensen, MD was named as the center’s director. The focus of the Center for Childhood Cancer Research will be to develop innovative new therapies in its laboratories and translate these advances to groundbreaking clinical trials for children with the most aggressive forms of cancer.  The new center’s long-term mission is to eventually replace cancer therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy that can harm the body, with new, ”smart” therapies capable of eliminating cancer with precision, leaving the body unharmed.

Dr. Jensen and his team will focus their work on harnessing the therapeutic potential of the immune system. Specifically, they will work to reprogram the body’s infection-fighting T-cells to seek out and destroy cancer cells wherever they are hiding in the body. Steps of T-cell therapy include:

  • T-Cell Isolation: Healthy T-cells are collected in a tube of blood and taken to the Center for Childhood Cancer Research biofactory. There, the patient’s T-cells will be isolated and prepared for reprogramming.
  • Genetic Reprogramming: T-cells are genetically reprogrammed with designer DNA that codes for artificial receptors which enable them to find and destroy cancer cells.
  • T-cell Duplication: Reprogrammed T-cells are then duplicated into several billion T-cells outside the body.
  • Transferring: Genetically reprogrammed T-cells are then transfused back to the child with cancer where they are expected to hunt down and eliminate cancer cells.

The Center for Childhood Cancer Research’s Therapeutic Cell Production Core, a GMP (good manufacturing practices) biofactory, will facilitate the acceleration of the T-cell therapy approach from the lab to the clinic. GMP facilities manufacture drug-, cell- or gene-based therapies according to strict standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The GMP facility at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research is one of only three GMPs in the nation that is owned and operated by a freestanding children’s hospital. It is the only GMP facility on the West Coast dedicated to pediatric research.

Children’s Center for Childhood Cancer Research grand opening was celebrated with a small event yesterday evening, where community members received tours of the new center and heard from Dr. Jensen; Children’s CEO Thomas Hansen, MD; and Seattle Children’s Research Institute President Jim Hendricks, PhD, who discussed the center’s vision to treat and cure childhood cancer. Hi-resolution photos from the event and of the center can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38997016@N03/sets/72157627194479134/

“Seattle Children’s objective for the Center for Childhood Cancer Research is to provide a new standard of care for childhood cancer - one where a tube of a child’s own blood is the cure. There’s no surgery, no chemotherapy, no radiation and the worst side effects are having symptoms of a common cold for a few days,” said Bruder Stapleton, MD, chief academic officer and senior vice president at Children’s. “We are pleased to appoint Dr. Jensen as director of our Center for Childhood Cancer Research, where he’ll be able to continue his work to advance the treatment of childhood cancer that has the potential to change lives all over the world.”

Dr. Michael Jensen Appointed Director of Center for Childhood Cancer Research

Dr. Jensen, who has assumed the role of director for the Center for Childhood Cancer Research, joined Seattle Children’s in 2010 after spending 13 years at City of Hope National Medical Center in Calif., where he developed a research program focused on cancer immunotherapy and translated this work into pioneering clinical trials.  With his return to Seattle, he is able to redouble these efforts focused specifically on the most urgent needs of children battling cancer.

“The quality of medical care that kids receive at Seattle Children’s Hospital, together with the depth and breadth of research at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the scientific community here in Seattle, created a perfect situation for me to come back and apply what I’ve learned about treating childhood cancer,” said Dr. Jensen. “Children’s is committed to leading the field of cancer immunotherapy for the treatment of childhood cancers. Seattle is the right place and now is right the time to make the advances in the research laboratory a treatment reality for patients in need.”

More on Dr. Jensen’s vision for a world without childhood cancer can be found here: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research/childhood-cancer/our-science/our-labs/jensen-lab

Next Steps – Trials and Treatment

By 2013, Children’s envisions the start of Phase I clinical trials with pediatric cancer patients. The first Phase I trials will apply the T-cell therapy to relapsed cancers, in particular leukemia, brain tumors and neuroblastoma. Researchers will eventually conduct trials for a broad array of cancer types and seek to use cancer immunotherapy to reduce or eliminate the need for chemotherapy and radiation. Children’s estimates that this treatment could be FDA-approved and available to all children in a decade.

The Center for Childhood Cancer Research will create over 60 new jobs by 2015. The team will also work to share key insights and findings with its Seattle Cancer Care Alliance partners – UW Medicine and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research.

Philanthropic Help Needed to Advance Childhood Cancer Research

While cancer treatments for adults are a multi-billion dollar market that attracts pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to invest in research, childhood cancer doesn’t attract this type of investment, despite the fact that cancer is the leading cause of childhood mortality by disease. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) currently allocates just 3 percent of its budget to childhood cancer research.

Seattle Children’s work at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research is critically dependent on philanthropy to achieve its goals. Moving Children’s promising cancer research forward is also a financial — in addition to scientific — matter. To donate to Children’s Center for Childhood Cancer Research, please visit https://giveto.seattlechildrens.org.

About Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention and bioethics, among others. As part of Seattle Children’s Hospital, the research institute brings together leading minds in pediatric research to provide patients with the best care possible. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which consistently ranks as one of the best pediatric departments in the country. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research.

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