Latest news in Paediatric Cancer research
Each year, an average of 1000 children and adolescents in Australia are diagnosed with cancer and of these, 3 children die each week. Treating childhood cancer has been challenging, as every child and every cancer is unique. Recent advances in knowledge and personalised treatment found through research are now improving the survival rates for many with this devastating disease.
ZERO Childhood Cancer Program
Zero Childhood Cancer Personalised Medicine Program (ZERO) is a joint initiative led by Children’s Cancer Institute and Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. The program which aims to find personalised treatment for children with high risk cancer has seen promising results, with their findings recently published in Nature Medicine.
The study has shown successful identification of DNA changes within the tumour cells in more than 90% of cases, and 70% had at least one new potential treatment option identified based on their cancer’s genetic makeup. The results offer a new paradigm for the management of paediatric cancers, with global implications.
3D mini-brains to test new therapies for childhood brain cancer
The Children’s Cancer Research Unit (CCRU) and Cancer Centre for Children at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead have been successful in creating a ‘mini-brain’ or a 3D organoid that replicates a child’s brain. The ‘mini-brains’ are large clusters of cells that grow in test tubes, containing many of the types of cells found within a real brain. This technology is now being used to trial cutting-edge treatments including CAR T-cell therapy for childhood brain cancers.
We have been able to make these mini brains in a test tube and then we use them as a platform. So instead of growing brain cancer cells in hard plastic dishes, we can grow them on the mini brains, much like the environment they would be growing in the patient” – Prof Geraldine O’Neill, Head of the Children’s Cancer Research Unit.
CAR T-Cell therapy for paediatric brain cancer & bone tumours
Chimeric antigen receptor or CAR T-cell therapy is a new form of immunotherapy that uses specially altered T cells to target and destroy cancer cells. CAR T-cell therapy has been effective in treating leukaemia.
Now, Dr Geoff McCowage, senior paediatric oncologist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the CCRU’s Advanced Cellular Therapeutics team are focusing on utilising CAR T-cell therapy as a treatment for other types of cancers, specifically brain cancers and bone cancers.
“Some brain tumours have a chemical called EphA2 on the cell surface. This chemical is also found on some bone tumours, but it is not on normal tissues. We have made a CAR T-cell that targets EphA2. Our preclinical laboratory based research shows highly promising results in targeting and destroying the tumour cells. ” – Dr McCowage.
The study has been recently published in Cancer Gene Therapy. “The results from the study will help inform the design of early-phase clinical trials in children with sarcomas”.