Beating childhood leukaemia

16 Aug 2015

Finding new, kinder drugs

Since the 1970s, no new drugs have been developed to treat childhood ALL. While the drugs we’ve used to treat children with ALL are successful, they’re harsh and bring many side effects. We urgently need to trial new biological therapies that use proteins and antibodies to attack cancer cells instead.

Preventing childhood leukaemia

Thanks to our researchers, we already know that the origin of childhood ALL is in the womb. By studying twins, where leukaemia has developed at different times in each child, we’ve found out about pre-leukaemia cells and how important they are. We know these cells are present at birth in far more children than the number who go on to develop leukaemia – so we understand that a second ‘event’ is needed to trigger the development of the disease.

We now need to understand these molecular changes that cause the leukaemia to develop. We’ve funded Professor Mel Greaves (pictured), an international leader in childhood leukaemia research at the Institute of Cancer Research, to develop a model in mice with this very aim. This really could be the next major breakthrough and it’s within touching distance.

A project like this costs around £200,000 to fund. We need funding to do more similar research, if we’re to prevent the leukaemia developing in the first place. Imagine being able to say that you helped to prevent a child from getting leukaemia.

Learn more about the impact of de-escalating treatment

Because of our research we’ve been able to carefully decrease the amount of harsh drugs children are given, reducing their risk of side effects but without risking their chance of a cure. We need to find out if we can reduce it even further though - and we're doing that through the UKALL 2011 clinical trial.

For many years every child in the UK with ALL has been entered into this national clinical trial. And actually it’s not just ‘children’ and not just people with ALL who are benefitting – young people up to the age of 24 and non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients take part in this trial too.

It’s important that we understand the impact of this de-escalation of treatment in the longer term though. That’s why UKALL 2011 also includes a quality of life survey, to make sure that we can monitor side effects. It’s an expensive but vital study. We’re sharing the costs with our friends at Children with Cancer, but we still need significant investment for this part of the UKALL 2011 trial.

Trial new drugs for children with relapsed ALL

Back in 1960, families would’ve been relieved beyond measure to find out that their child, just diagnosed with leukaemia, had a 90% chance of survival. But we’re still thinking about the 10%: the families whose children aren’t so lucky, and don’t respond well to treatment.

Until we know a lot more about why some children with ALL relapse, and what we can do about it, we won’t be able to say we’ve achieved 100% survival.

That’s why IntReAll, the largest ever clinical trial for children with relapsed ALL, is so exciting. It involves over a thousand children from 19 different countries and we’re funding Dr Julie Irving from Newcastle University to conduct a key laboratory project associated with the trial. She and her team are using samples from the patients to better understand the basis of their responses to the drugs they’re trialling – this crucial four year programme will cost around £300,000.

Improve survival rates for other childhood leukaemias

It’s important that we remember that childhood ALL is the most common, but not the only childhood blood cancer – in childhood AML we haven’t made as much progress and have a lot more work to do.

Find out more about the progress that’s been made in childhood leukaemia >

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