Las Madrinas Endowment for Diagnostic Innovation

The Las Madrinas Endowment for Diagnostic Innovation supports the transformational work conducted by the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Overseen by Alexander Judkins, MD, Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Executive Director of the Center for Personalized Medicine, a team of nearly 275 faculty, physicians, laboratorians and researchers will work to develop a new generation of tests used to diagnose and care for children with leukemia and other types of cancer. These tests will help detect disease earlier, determine which therapies may be most effective and guide decisions that minimize the long-term side effects of treatments.

A History: How Diagnostic Testing Helps Children

As technology has progressed, so too has our ability to understand diseases on the molecular level. Forty years ago, the survival rate for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was about 35%. Now, nearly 90% of children with ALL are cancer-free at their five-year follow-up. An important factor in the increased survival rate is related to diagnostic testing.

After the first phase of chemotherapy, clinicians can test a child for remaining cancer—or minimal residual disease (MRD)—in the bloodstream. A positive MRD result means that while the disease is no longer clinically evident, circulating tumor cells are still detectable and leukemia may return without additional therapy. A negative result can mean some cancer cells are still circulating—but the levels are so low that the disease is not likely to return.

Pinpointing the cutoff between a positive and negative MRD test took decades of research. The impact of that work has meant thousands of children could stop treatments like chemotherapy and return to daily life confident of a future free of recurrent leukemia. Physicians and scientists at Children’s Hospital have played a key role in this work, including the development of MRD testing.

Similar work is underway in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine for other types of pediatric cancers. But each disease is different. The Las Madrinas Endowment for Diagnostic Innovation is a crucial investment in this research that can translate into full, active lives for children with a whole range of diseases.

Innovative Work to Create Healthier Futures

For children, who have a lifetime ahead them, a cancer diagnosis can have a devastating impact on their future. However, specialized diagnostic tests that can detect disease earlier and reveal its unique genetic characteristics help give each child the best chance at a healthy future.

Personalized medicine means moving beyond one-size-fits- all care and taking into account a child’s genetics when considering treatment options. The investigators working with Dr. Judkins are taking this a step further, using personalized medicine to power innovative diagnostics to determine the best treatments—and discovering new methods of interpreting genetic results to improve outcomes for children.

Not all cancers are the same. Some don’t respond to traditional chemotherapies but can be treated by medications that target certain genetic markers. Scientists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles developed OncoKids®, a comprehensive testing panel for children that uses a small sample to test for the genetic markers of all types of pediatric cancer. This means clinicians can arrive at a diagnosis more quickly and match a child with the most optimal treatment that targets the disease.

By developing diagnostic tools like OncoKids® no pediatric disease is too big to study, but building these kinds of innovative tools takes time, hard work and support.

With support from Las Madrinas, the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine will work to develop even more effective tests for children with leukemia and other types of cancer, including the development of a liquid biopsy test that can detect disease earlier—and less invasively—and make therapies more effective.

The Impact of Your Philanthropy

The Las Madrinas Endowment for Diagnostic Innovation will ensure that Dr. Judkins and his team in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine have the resources to continue to conduct game-changing investigations, recruit leading experts in the field and create more accurate tests for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Your support will foster the brightest minds in pathology and laboratory medicine and their quest to develop innovative diagnostic tools to enable life-changing treatments for patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. As a result, countless children in our community will receive leading-edge care—and go on to have a bright future.