August 2, 2023

Pediatric brain tumor charities and U-M researchers pushing for quicker, less invasive diagnosis and monitoring

Support from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Catching Up With Jack charitable organizations is helping University of Michigan researchers advance methods to more quickly and accurately diagnose and monitor childhood brain cancers.

Funding from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Catching Up With Jack brought the QIAcube —an innovative and advanced centrifuge technology — to the lab of Carl Koschmann, M.D., the ChadTough Defeat DIPG Research Professor of Pediatrics and an associate professor of pediatrics at U-M.

The QIAcube automates the purification of DNA, RNA, and proteins, eliminating human error and significantly speeding up the process. This tool is enabling the Koschmann Lab to further develop and improve liquid biopsy tests with the plan to make these screenings more readily available in clinical settings to better treat children who have high-risk brain tumors.

“Delays in diagnosis lead to delays in treatment - time that kids with brain cancer don’t have,” says Courtney Davies, president and CEO of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. “The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s initial funding to support Dr. Koschmann’s liquid biopsy research has resulted in promising advances for quicker, more accurate diagnoses. We’re proud to work with longtime funding partner Catching Up With Jack to continue supporting this game-changing screening method and get it out of the lab and into clinics faster.”

Liquid biopsy tests are a relatively new and promising approach to detecting brain tumors by screening a patient’s cerebrospinal fluid, blood, or plasma for the presence of circulating tumor DNA. Typically, tumor diagnosis and analysis has been conducted on tumor tissue harvested via traditional biopsy or resection. Depending on the location and type of tumor, these methods can be invasive or might not be able to extract a sample.

Liquid biopsies can also benefit children after diagnosis by making it easier to monitor mutations in a tumor. Fast-growing and aggressive brain tumors can mutate quickly and often, making treatments ineffective unless physicians can carefully follow changes in the tumor and adapt therapies accordingly.

“The support from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Catching Up With Jack has been essential for us to develop liquid biopsy tests,” Dr. Koschmann says. “As we get close to the finish line with some of these tests, we realized we needed a device to standardize isolation of cell free tumor DNA from specimens. The QIAcube will certainly expedite our process of bringing these tests to the clinic.”

Jack Wadden, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Koschmann Lab with expertise in electrical engineering and computer science engineering, has been using the QIAcube in his work and sees the tool improving the repeatability and reliability of testing methods so that liquid biopsy tests will soon be accessible to patients and families.

“The consistency of the QIAcube will help us standardize these tests and get them validated quicker and at a lower cost,” Dr. Wadden says. “And apart from the liquid biopsy work, it has also had spillover effects into the rest of the lab, helping almost everyone who is doing basic cancer science to improve productivity when performing large, complex experiments."

Advancing studies and driving progress in broader cancer science is something that also inspires the mission and philanthropy of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Catching Up With Jack. The organizations are committed to providing seed funding for novel concepts, as well as new twists and approaches to research.

With Dr. Wadden’s background in engineering and computer science, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Catching Up With Jack saw another opportunity to support a unique approach to medical research. This is the second time they have helped to fund his research; they supported his previous work that studied the development of rapid and affordable DNA sequencing to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of disease.