4 researchers striving to reduce impact of childhood cancer in our community

Cancer Council NSW

Cancer is the most common cause of childhood death from disease. But thanks to the generous donations support of the Cancer Council community, we’re investing millions of dollars to change the story of childhood cancer.

In this blog, we put the spotlight on four ground-breaking research projects that are leading the charge in reducing the impact of childhood cancer.

These projects address childhood brain cancers, which contribute the greatest number of deaths, and childhood blood cancers, which is the most common form of childhood cancer. They also look at reducing the risk of relapse and long-term side effects, which can be common following aggressive treatment for cancer in childhood.

1. Redesigning testing for high-risk childhood leukaemia:

Professor Richard Lock, Children’s Cancer Institute

Prof Lock’s goal is to make it easier to monitor childhood cancer patients at risk of relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Prof Lock and his team want to make it possible to identify the beginnings of a relapse via a simple blood test. This blood test would replace the current monitoring method – drawing a bone marrow sample – which is incredibly invasive and painful.

If successful, the new testing method will make it possible to test more frequently for the early signs of relapse and act more quickly with personalised treatment options in real-time.

This would greatly improve outcomes and quality of life for a significant number of people, as ALL is the most common type of cancer in children and 1 in 5 experience a relapse in their lifetime.

Additionally, this is one of the first uses of new ultrasensitive blood testing technology capable of detecting tiny amounts of tumour DNA. As such, this project could pave the way for use across more cancer types in the future.

2. Testing a new dual treatment for aggressive childhood brain cancers:

Associate Professor David Ziegler, Children’s Cancer Institute

Associate Professor Ziegler and his team are testing to see if two new drugs could be the key to helping children survive aggressive brain cancers called high-grade gliomas.

Previous research into aggressive childhood brain cancers has discovered that these cancers correlate with an overactive molecular pathway in the brain. As such, A/Prof Ziegler and his team want to test combinations of the two new drugs to see if they can switch this molecular pathway off and if switching it off can stop these cancers from growing.

If successful in this project, A/Prof Ziegler hopes to rapidly translate the approach from the lab into clinical trials. A major encouraging factor on this front is that one of the new drugs is already approved for use in Australia, while the other is already being tested in international clinical trials.

3. Finding new treatments for aggressive childhood cancers:

Dr Belamy Cheung, Children’s Cancer Institute Australia

Dr Cheung’s project is similar to A/Prof Ziegler’s in that it is also looking for new treatment options for high-risk childhood brain cancer.

However, Dr Cheung’s project is investigating two other factors that correlate with these cancers: The presence of high levels of a protein called MYCN and a gene called USP5.

In this project, Dr Cheung and her team want to test if blocking MYCN and USP5 can be a way of successfully treating brain cancers like neuroblastoma and medulloblastoma – either on its own or in combination with common chemotherapies or radiotherapies.

If successful, Dr Cheung also hopes this project can be rapidly translated into clinical trials in the future.

4. Improving outcomes for infants with cancer:

Dr David Croucher, Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Dr Croucher and his team are also looking for new techniques to treat childhood brain cancer – in this case advanced neuroblastoma.

They want to use advanced mathematical modelling to make it possible to personalise treatments for individual patients.

If successful, this research would enable treatment teams to ensure patients receive the right amounts of chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy for their specific cancers. This would reduce the risk of long-term complications caused by excess treatment and improve long-term quality of life for survivors.

Thanks to the generosity of the Cancer Council community, we can invest millions of dollars to fund new research projects every year.

Click through to learn more about other projects we’re currently funding or how we choose which projects to fund.

/Public Release. View in full here.