Three new research teams aim to improve therapies for difficult-to-treat pediatric cancers

Children's Health

While incredible progress has been made in advancing pediatric cancer research, critical unmet needs still exist, especially for more aggressive cancers such as neuroblastomas and Ewing sarcoma. The Stand Up To Cancer-Cancer Research UK Pediatric Cancer New Discoveries Challenge has awarded three new teams of scientists in both the UK and the US with up to $1 million over two years to improve therapies for cancers that impact children and young people and are particularly difficult to treat.

While tackling COVID-19 has become the top health priority around the world, a child is still diagnosed with cancer every two minutes globally. Around 1,900 cases of pediatric cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year, and more than 15,000 cases are diagnosed in the US. Efforts to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed the power of scientific collaboration on a global scale, which could greatly benefit research in other areas – such as pediatric cancer – in the long term.

Despite the world’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains imperative to continue supporting the research efforts and infrastructure for childhood cancers in both the near and long term. The forward momentum of each of these teams is very promising, as they focus both on children currently in treatment as well as those that are yet to be diagnosed.”

Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, CEO, Stand Up To Cancer

The Stand Up To Cancer-Cancer Research UK Pediatric Cancer New Discoveries Challenge supports teams focused on understanding the drivers of pediatric cancers and the usage of novel or repurposed medicines for therapeutic purposes. The three trans-Atlantic teams will do the initial development over two years and then compete for an additional four years of funding to further advance their work.

“Progress in children and young people’s cancer remains stubbornly low for certain cancer types,” said Dr. Matt Kaiser, Head of Discovery Research at Cancer Research UK. “By funding these transatlantic collaborations, we hope to accelerate progress in our understanding of cancer in children and young people, which will ultimately lead to much needed new ways to treat these cancers in the clinic.”

Team 1: Led by Dr. Martin McCabe at the University of Manchester and Dr. Thomas Merchant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, this team will study precision radiotherapy, a type of treatment for pediatric brain cancers that currently can cause lifelong side effects in cognition and hormone production. The team aims to identify the regions of the brain involved in these processes that are sensitive to radiation in order to develop an atlas of brain regions to be avoided during precision radiotherapy in childhood.

Team 2: Led by Professor John Anderson at the University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Professor Louis Chesler at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, this team will tackle some of the challenges associated with utilizing immunotherapies for the treatment of childhood cancers. The team will study the immune system of children with two types of brain/nerve cancer: neuroblastoma or medulloblastoma. They plan to re-engineer the patient’s own T-cells into ‘CAR-T cells‘ that can boost a child’s immune system to overcome tumor growth and other immunity barriers.

Team 3: Led by Dr. Alexander Bishop at UT Health San Antonio and Professor Kevin Hiom at the University of Dundee, Scotland, this team will investigate a unique biological hallmark of Ewing sarcoma, a type of cancer that affects bones and the surrounding tissue that is poorly understood and has limited treatment options. The biological hallmark they will investigate is called R-loops, which are present in higher numbers in Ewing sarcoma and are caused by a genetic alteration. The team hopes to create a drug that will target this unusual gene mutation.

The international collaboration between Stand Up To Cancer and Cancer Research UK launched with a live Stand Up To Cancer telecast on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in 2012. Since that time, more than £62 million has been raised in the UK to date, funding 52 clinical trials and projects involving 11,000 cancer patients across the country. Currently four teams are supported by the transatlantic collaborations between SU2C and Cancer Research UK.

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