Scientists in Britain have begun work on testing tumours from children with cancer, in the hope that this will ultimately provide younger patients with access to new and more personalised medicines.
It’s also believe d that this body of work can help improve survival rates from the deadly condition, as researchers begin to get to grips with the killer disease.
The new test analyses changes in 81 different cancer genes.
It is hoped that the research will ultimately lead to what scientists describe as a more level playing field, crucially accelerating the access of children to important new medicines.
Testing is being based at the Royal Marsden NHS Hospital in London and will reach 400 children from around the UK over the next two years.
Once the research process has been completed satisfactorily, it is then anticipated that it will be possible to roll the results out on a wider basis.
The implementation of the test has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).
One of the problems in researching cancer tumours in children is the relative paucity of cases, which means that pharmaceutical companies are often reluctant to fund clinical trials.
Prof Louis Chesler, who is leading the genetic testing research, dommented on this matter, pointing out that the research will be particularly valuable to the younger generation that is often neglected in such medicine.
“Children often don’t have equal access to the most modern and potentially beneficial cancer drugs. The cost of developing these gene-targeted drugs is very high. They tend to go to adults first, where more people are being treated and results can be seen more quickly. This test is an incredible advance, because it will define all the genetic changes in the tumour with great clarity. That gives clinicians an enormously powerful tool – helping them pick the right drugs for children, and establishing that they are effective as quickly as possible.”
Chesler also pointed out that the research has another advantage which could lead to outstanding survival rates once it is completed.
“Children’s cancers are genetically more simple than adult ones, so ultimately these drugs have a chance of being more effective in children.”
The test is intended to provide scientists and doctors with a source of detailed genetic information about any tumour contained within a child.
It is considered a particular breakthrough as this information will be delivered within just a few weeks of initial diagnosis.
It will enable them to make a stronger case for using targeted drugs on some young patients, possibly saving them from the side-effects associated with conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy.