Comparative Tumor RNA Sequencing Analysis for Difficult-to-Treat Pediatric and Young Adult Patients With Cancer

JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Oct 2;2(10):e1913968. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.13968.


Importance: Pediatric cancers are epigenetic diseases; therefore, considering tumor gene expression information is necessary for a complete understanding of the tumorigenic processes.

Objective: To evaluate the feasibility and utility of incorporating comparative gene expression information into the precision medicine framework for difficult-to-treat pediatric and young adult patients with cancer.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study was conducted as a consortium between the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative and clinical genomic trials. RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) data were obtained from the following 4 clinical sites and analyzed at UCSC: British Columbia Children's Hospital (n = 31), Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University (n = 80), CHOC Children's Hospital and Hyundai Cancer Institute (n = 46), and the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (n = 24). The study dates were January 1, 2016, to March 22, 2017.

Exposures: Participants underwent tumor RNA-Seq profiling as part of 4 separate clinical trials at partner hospitals. The UCSC either downloaded RNA-Seq data from a partner institution for analysis in the cloud or provided a Docker pipeline that performed the same analysis at a partner institution. The UCSC then compared each participant's tumor RNA-Seq profile with more than 11 000 uniformly analyzed tumor profiles from pediatric and young adult patients with cancer, downloaded from public data repositories. These comparisons were used to identify genes and pathways that are significantly overexpressed in each patient's tumor. Results of the UCSC analysis were presented to clinical partners.

Main outcomes and measures: Feasibility of a third-party institution (UCSC Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative) to obtain tumor RNA-Seq data from patients, conduct comparative analysis, and present analysis results to clinicians; and proportion of patients for whom comparative tumor gene expression analysis provided useful clinical and biological information.

Results: Among 144 samples from children and young adults (median age at diagnosis, 9 years; range, 0-26 years; 72 of 118 [61.0%] male [26 patients sex unknown]) with a relapsed, refractory, or rare cancer treated on precision medicine protocols, RNA-Seq-derived gene expression was potentially useful for 99 of 144 samples (68.8%) compared with DNA mutation information that was potentially useful for only 34 of 74 samples (45.9%).

Conclusions and relevance: This study's findings suggest that tumor RNA-Seq comparisons may be feasible and highlight the potential clinical utility of incorporating such comparisons into the clinical genomic interpretation framework for difficult-to-treat pediatric and young adult patients with cancer. The study also highlights for the first time to date the potential clinical utility of harmonized publicly available genomic data sets.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Precision Medicine
  • RNA, Neoplasm / analysis*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • RNA, Neoplasm