Cancerous tumors were surgically removed from 12-year-old Markell Gregoire’s leg Monday. But he was having a much better day Friday. Gregoire sat in a crowded cafeteria at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and jawed with former President Bill Clinton.
“It’s nice to see another famous person in the room,” Gregoire said.
Doctors at St. Jude don’t just treat child cancer patients. They're also working on finding the genetic causes of the disease by comparing cancer cells and normal cells in 600 of their young patients.
“From that we find the mutations that cause a white blood cell to become a leukemia cell, or a brain cell to become a brain tumor,” said hospital director and CEO Dr. William Evans.
“Cancer is a disease of our DNA and this project is trying to figure out exactly what goes wrong,” Evans said. “Then you’ll have what you need to know to better treat them.”
The Pediatric Cancer Genome Project would not be possible without the first map of the human genome, which was completed while Clinton was President. That map revealed that people of all races are more than 99 percent similar on the genetic level. And while nationwide disparities persist between the outcomes of black cancer patients, like Gregoire, and white cancer patients—St. Jude has managed to close that gap.
“It’s thrilling. It’s thrilling to see what they have done here,” Clinton said. “St. Jude is sort of the living embodiment of everything I hoped would happen.”
St. Jude is applying for federal grants made available by the Affordable Care Act to share its research around the country and the world.