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Children's Hospital Los Angeles invests $50M in genome sequencing

Isabella Osorio, 9, affected by cancer, rests during her chemotherapy session. Recent research suggests existence of cancer stem-cells.
Isabella Osorio, a 9-year-old cancer patient, rests during her chemotherapy session. Children's Hospital Los Angeles says its Center for Personalized Medicine will focus first on pediatric cancer research.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles is committing $50 million over five years to support the use of genome sequencing for diagnosing and treating the youngest patients, the institution said Thursday.

The investment is intended to help the hospital's Center for Personalized Medicine utilize patients’ biological profiles to make diagnoses earlier and more accurately, treatments more safe and effective, and health care more personalized and preventive, according to a statement.

The hospital said it will also seek an additional $50 million in philanthropic funding from the community.

Children's established the Center in 2010, initiating planning and the development of genomic testing capabilities, a spokesman said. The Center currently has four faculty and 14 physicians and internationally recognized experts in genomics, clinical genetics, bioinformatics and molecular diagnostics. With the new investment, it will grow to 28 faculty and 140 skilled staff, the spokesman added.

"In the near future, a newborn's genome will be sequenced at birth (or even before), permitting clinicians to plan a lifetime of personalized, preventative health care that focuses on preventing, rather than reacting to, illness," Dr. Alexander Judkins, the Center's executive director, said in a statement.

President Barack Obama recently announced a plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in personalized medicine. It would include $130 million for the National Institutes of Health to develop a national database of genetic profiles, medical histories, and other data of a million Americans, according to the Washington Post.

"Medicine is on the verge of a new era as game-changing as the discovery of antibiotics," said Richard Cordova, the hospital's president and CEO. Noting President Obama’s support for personalized medicine, Cordova said Children's Hospital "has the capacity to lead the development of better treatments and cures for children."

The work at Children's stands out because the movement toward personalized medicine has "largely focused on adult hospitals and the potential impact of genome sequencing to diagnose and treat adult disease," Judkins said. 

With the hospital's investment, the Center will initially focus on pediatric cancer. Researchers will study genomic features of new and recurrent cancers treated at the hospital, and discover causes and therapies for childhood cancers, noted Judkins.

The Center will later focus on inherited diseases and infectious diseases as well. It also plans to expand into genetic conditions, such as epilepsy, autism, neurocognitive disorders, congenital heart disease and cleft palate.

"Personalized medicine holds the potential to reduce the risk of developing some health disorders for which people are genetically predisposed, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension," Judkins said. "Yet, we have unlocked only a fraction of the information that our genes can reveal."