New personalised cancer treatment for children

Nearly three Australian children and adolescents die each week of cancer.



Dani cook’s son, Kayne, was diagnosed with brain cancer just before he turned two.


Now four, he’s been in remission for almost a year after having chemotherapy, radiotherapy and two brain surgeries.


“It feels so good but scary at the same time … because there’s always a high risk of recurrence.”


950 children are diagnosed with cancer each year and about 150 of them have cancer types with a survival rate of less than 30 per cent.


“Nearly three Australian children and adolescents still die each week of cancer.”


Professor Michelle Haber, of the Children’s Cancer Institute, has helped launch a new way of treating children’s cancer.


“Zero Childhood Cancer, a national personalised medicine program for children with cancer, will give hope to these particularly vulnerable children and young people who are at the highest risk.”


Scientists and clinicians from the Children’s Cancer Institute and Sydney children’s hospital lead the program.


Tumour cells are taken from a child’s cancer, grown a laboratory, then tested against all the various drugs that are available to see which ones kill it.


Professor Haber:


“For example this robot that we are looking at here, this allows us to screen hundreds and hundreds of individual drugs and drug combinations against the child’s cancer cells that will be plated in various different drugs in each well and this technology allows us to screen them very rapidly and to get ananswer back almost within days: certainly time to implement this back into the clinic.”


The machines work very fast, and what drugs are working on a child’s cancer can be known within days.


It used to take one year to collect this kind of data.


Professor Haber says an exact replica of the child’s tumour is then placed in a special type of laboratory mouse and the drugs are tested again.


“From all of that we will get a short list of a small number of drugs or drug combinations that we think are most likely to work and then we can actually treat the child’s tumour growing in the mice with that combination of drugs versus the two or three best possible that are our shortlist.”


In preliminary trials it’s shown a high likelihood of working.


Professor Glenn Marshall is the Director at Kids Cancer Centre.


He says he’s hoping it’ll eventually cure children’s cancer.


“For most children with cancer, the cure rates fortunately are up around 80 per cent and so these are a small proportion. Our hope with this campaign is we take it to 100 per cent cure rate and really that’s what drives people like me every day.”


Dani Cook says the program provides hope where children could relapse.


“It’s very reassuring, not only for us but for other children. It’s reassuring that one day every child will be cured of cancer and that we won’t be losing these innocent little lives to it.”


It also means the dreams of cancer survivors like Maria Psaradellis are within reach.


“Either be a hairdresser or a singer.”


A number of children will take part in a pilot program next year ahead of it being more widely available.