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Brink of Major Breakthroghs

Chris Lucas Trust in Partnership with the ICR

Here, at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, we are on the brink of making some major breakthroughs for children, teenagers and young adults with cancer – advances that can offer more young patients the chance of cure, and a better long-term quality of life. These breakthroughs are being made possible with the support of our donors, such as the Chris Lucas Trust.

Around three-quarters of children with cancer are cured of their disease, but that proportion has hardly grown in recent years, and survivors can experience life-long side-effects from harsh chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It has taken too long for young people to benefit from the kinds of targeted cancer treatment that have so improved outcomes for many adults with cancer – but thanks to the ICR and organisations like us, that is now changing.

Professor Janet Shipley

Around three-quarters of the children assessed with blood tests before treatment showed key genetic changes in their cancers – some of which could have implications for the children’s treatment. The promising findings are part of an international collaborative pilot study which is already being taken forward into a large international clinical trial.

The study, led by Professor Janet Shipley, who leads the Sarcoma Molecular Pathology Group at the ICR, involved blood and tissue samples from 28 patients with rhabdomyosarcoma from different centres across Europe, as well as studies in pre-clinical models.

Researchers assessed whether measuring DNA shed by cancer cells into the bloodstream could track tumour progression and aggressiveness and be a faster and less painful alternative for children than traditional tissue biopsies.

After analysing the findings from the study, researchers believe detecting increasing levels of circulating tumour DNA in the blood predicts poor responses to treatment. Using liquid biopsies to monitor patients could successfully determine how well treatment is working and identify patients who may need further interventions.

“Liquid biopsies have the potential to transform how we monitor and treat children with rhabdomyosarcoma. We hope that these simple blood tests can become a less invasive alternative to tissue biopsies, and a key tool to help judge prognosis and guide treatment.

“Our early pilot findings suggest that liquid biopsies can detect early signs of relapse, assess the severity of disease and help guide choice of drug treatment. We’re excited to be taking these findings into an international clinical trial involving larger numbers of children, and we

hope we can realise the potential of using liquid biopsies to make children’s cancer treatment smarter and kinder.” – Professor Janet Shipley

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