St. Jude doctor decoding childhood cancer - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

St. Jude doctor decoding childhood cancer

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Groundbreaking work being done at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is being nationally recognized.

Dr. James Downing, the head of the Pediatric Genome Project, is nominated for TIME Magazine's Top 100 Influential People of the World.

MORE: Vote for Dr. Downing

Dr. Downing says as the administrator of St. Jude's Pediatric Genome Project, he's just the face for a team of the world's leading scientists.

"We see ourselves as a global leader, we see St. Jude as an organization that has to tackle certain problems that nobody else will tackle," he said.

The Pediatric Genome Project is like none other in the world. It's the largest of its kind. Phase one of the $65 million project just wrapped up.

"At the time we did that, only a single human cancer had been sequenced, but we said, we were going to sequence 600 in three years," Dr. Downing said. "We came to the conclusion that it was really time for somebody to roll up their sleeves, commit the money, commit the effort, and sequence the whole genome of pediatric cancer."

A team of 250 are on the project. Using the best technology in the world, scientists take a tumor cell, isolate its DNA, then shatter it into billions of pieces. Then through chemical reactions the sequence the base pairs 30 times each.

That's 100 billion pieces of information.

"If you were to take that DNA sequence and type it onto a sheet of paper, single space, both sides, put it into a four-drawer file cabinet and then start stacking those four-drawer file cabinets, it would fill the pyramid bottom to top 30 times," Dr. Downing said.

All those sequences are compared to sequences of healthy tissue to determine where the mutations are. The discoveries have proven to be invaluable.

"As the leader of the project, I had many sleepless nights," he said. "We're going to spend $65 million. Is it going to be worth it? Are we going to make the discoveries? Every cancer we've looked at, we've made discoveries we never dreamed of."

The project has now moved onto phase two, clinic trials on the discoveries, just four years into the project. This is moving at the speed of light when it comes to treatment of disease. Lives are being saved. Once again, St. Jude is the leader in curing childhood cancers.

"Who should lead that? And as we like to think here, if not St. Jude, then who."

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