Children at the highest risk of dying from their cancer are the target of an ambitious new Australian research program.
Zero Childhood Cancer, a national personalised medicine program, was launched by Children’s Cancer Institute and Sydney Children’s Hospital Network on Wednesday.
A detailed laboratory analysis will be made of each child’s unique cancer cells, to help identify the drugs most likely to kill their specific cancer.
Scientists and doctors will then work to identify and deliver the most effective treatment plan, tailored to suit each child’s individual disease.
“This is a very exciting initiative that will revolutionise the way in which treatment decisions about childhood cancer will be made,” said the institute’s executive director Professor Michelle Haber.
“We see this as a key step towards our vision of one day helping to cure 100 per cent of children with cancer.
“Currently, for children with the most challenging forms of cancer, there is very little hope.”
Childhood cancer survival rates have increased over the last 60 years, from virtually zero to 80 per cent, but nearly three Australian children and adolescents still die each week.
Of the 950 children diagnosed each year, 150 are either diagnosed with cancer types that have less than a 30 per cent survival rate, or suffer relapse and then have less than a 30 per cent chance of cure.
Cancers with particularly poor survival rates are aggressive forms of brain cancer, neuroblastoma, sarcoma and infant leukaemia.
Kids Cancer Centre director Professor Glenn Marshall said the program could minimise the side-effects and suffering caused by chemotherapy.
“Knowing which drugs will not be effective in a patient is as important as knowing which drugs will be effective,” he said.
“Our ward is full of children suffering as much from the side effects of treatment as they are suffering from cancer.”
ZERO CHILDHOOD CANCER AGENDA
* scientists and doctors open pilot study of high risk NSW cancer patients in 2016
* a national clinical trial involving 120 children in 2017
* eventually to be offered nationally to children at highest risk of relapse or treatment failure.