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Story | Research
19 May 2021

QF’s Sidra Medicine research to help develop targeted therapies for childhood cancers

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Sidra Medicine’s newly established pediatric cancer biorepository aims to deliver precision medicine for every child with cancer

Precision medicine is an emerging healthcare treatment approach that offers personalized care, and is set to play a major role in the future of healthcare, particularly in complex diseases like cancer. And the establishment of Sidra Medicine’s pediatric cancer biorepository to develop personalized cancer therapies for pediatric patients is a big step towards that.

By tailoring treatment to fit each child, the focus will shift from treating a category that the child fits in, to treating the child’s individual cancer in a very precise way. This approach will also ensure no child is being exposed to more chemotherapy or radiation therapy than is necessary thereby minimizing any side effects and toxicity.

Through tailoring treatment, we want to strictly limit exposure of a child to such drugs to precisely the amount that is needed so we don’t just treat the child but do so with minimal effect to their quality of life.

William Mifsud

William Mifsud

Dr. William Mifsud, Attending Physician at Qatar Foundation’s Sidra Medicine’s Anatomic Pathology division, explains some studies have shown that particular chemotherapeutic agents can have an impact on cardiac function. “Through tailoring treatment, we want to strictly limit exposure of a child to such drugs to precisely the amount that is needed so we don’t just treat the child but do so with minimal effect to their quality of life.”

In order to provide such tailored healthcare treatment, research begins at the biorepository.

A biorepository is a place where biological samples are collected, processed, and stored to support scientific research,

Dr. Wouter Hendrickx

“A biorepository is a place where biological samples are collected, processed and stored to support scientific research,” said Dr. Wouter Hendrickx, Principal Investigator (PI) of the Pediatric Cancer Omics Lab at Sidra Medicine.

Wouter Hendrickx

During the course of an individual’s illness, biological samples such as their tissue and blood are collected for diagnosis and treatment. With the consent of the patient, the leftover portions of these biospecimens that are not used for diagnosis are stored in a biorepository. These samples serve as invaluable sources of material for biomedical research and are crucial in discovering new treatments.

Every sample that goes into the biorepository will be an investment towards better pediatric cancer care. Analyzing diseased tumor tissue will allow researchers improved biological understanding of how pediatric cancers operate, including why some cancers respond or don’t respond to a particular drug, or why some tumors grow much faster than others and why some recur.

Dr. Hendrickx explains that the idea to establish a national pediatric cancer biorepository was born three years ago when Sidra Medicine was recognized as the only center for pediatric Oncology in the country by the National Cancer Program in Qatar.

As pediatric cancer cases from all over the country were transferred to Sidra Medicine, the general consensus among the medical community was that this was a great opportunity to set up a number of research projects focused specifically on pediatric cancers, particularly with the aim of developing more personalized medicine for children with cancer in Qatar.

“To be able to study a disease, especially a heterogenous disease like cancer, the first thing we need is access to high quality samples of both the diseased tissue as well as the patient’s genetic makeup. This is something that was missing in the country until now, particularly for pediatric cancers.

“The lack of a local pediatric cancer biobank was one of the biggest hurdles to doing proper research on childhood cancers; and we are delighted that Sidra Medicine has been able to change that with the establishment of the pediatric cancer biorepository,” said Dr. Hendrickx.

By doing our own studies that focus on Arab and middle eastern populations, what we are doing is leveling the field so the future populations of this region can have access to the same level of treatment as other countries where treatment is advanced and personalized,

Dr. Ayman Saleh

Ayman Saleh

What the pediatric cancer biorepository will offer is a chance at having an improved understanding of pediatric cancer specifically among Arab populations, and thereby bridging the gap between clinical research and effective cancer care.

Existing studies on pediatric cancers either don’t take into account Arab ethnicity or massively underrepresent it. We know that genetic makeup differs based on ethnicity and the mutations that can lead to the occurrence of cancer in Arab children can be different to those in other ethnicities.

“By doing our own studies that focus on Arab and middle eastern populations, what we are doing is leveling the field so the future populations of this region can have access to the same level of treatment as other countries where treatment is advanced and personalized,” Dr. Ayman Saleh, Division Chief of Pediatric Oncology Division at Sidra Medicine said.

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