protonProton.signWhen children develop cancer and need chemotherapy it affects their physical and, at times, their mental development as chemotherapy is basically toxic. Chemotherapy does not usually differentiate between the cancer and non cancer cells. As such, chemotherapy sometimes has deadly side effects. One of the main thrusts of research into cancer therapies is how to reduce the toxic effects of this cancer treatment so that children’s mental and physical growth is not adversely affected.  Research on this is almost always ongoing and recently two research studies on children’s cancer treatment show promise of better outcomes and less toxicity while treating different cancers in children. Both research studies originate down under. A third research study shows the efficacy of a new form of radiation therapy to treat children with neuroblastoma.

Use of blood pressure drugs reduces the need for chemotherapeutic agents

Dr. Eddy Pasquier Senior Research Officer in the Tumor Biology and Targeting Program of the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia published research in the British Journal of Cancer in August 2013 on the efficacy of blood pressure drugs called beta blockers to reduce tumors. The research, carried out on mice, showed that mice with tumors, when given beta blockers, survived longer with chemotherapy than mice that did not take beta blockers but were given chemotherapy alone.

His research stemmed from analysis of previous research done on breast cancer patients, which showed similar positive effects on patients who were on beta blockers at the time of undergoing chemotherapy. Beta blockers actually had positive effect on non cancerous vascular tumors in children.

In real terms, this points to the concurrent use of beta blockers (which are cheaper) along with chemotherapy to treat children with neuroblastoma and other cancers allowing the doctors to reduce the dose of chemotherapy that has deleterious effects on the well being of growing children.  Trials will start next year and, if successful, the combination of beta blockers with chemotherapy will be available in due course of time.

New developments in chemotherapy drugs

Professor Peter Gunning of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) worked with Dr. Justine Stehn, the lead author of the study, to develop a new drug called TR100. This new treatment was the basis of  research, published in Cancer Research in August 2013, and showed that the compound TR100 has an effect on the protein tropomyosin, which is one of the building blocks of cancer cells, and causes the cancer cells to collapse, thus self destructing. This protein is not present in healthy muscle cells, leading to the promise of a revolutionary new treatment for many different cancers. This drug targets cancers particularly melanoma and neuroblastoma in children, but may be effective in a wide range of different cancers.

This treatment does not affect other cells, so the side effects of the chemotherapy are minimized. At the same time it acts very quickly on the targeted cancer cells, reducing the time a child is exposed to traditional chemotherapy. For the drug to go into trials the researchers are looking for a $1 million funding to start with and they hope to start human trials by 2015.

Proton beam therapy offers more targeted radiation treatment

A study titled Proton versus Photon Radiation Therapy for Patients with High-Risk Neuroblastoma: The Need for a Customized Approach, carried out by a team of researchers led by Christine Hill-Kayser, MD, a radiation oncologist in The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Cancer Center was published online in June 2013 in Pediatric Blood & Cancer. Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) is a precise form of radiotherapy that uses high energy subatomic particles to destroy DNA in tumors and prevent cancer cells from multiplying. It is often used against spinal tumors and targets the tumors, reducing damage to surrounding tissue.

The study was carried out on 13 children; 11 received the proton beam therapy while two, because of the location of the tumors, received intensity-modulated X-ray therapy (IMXT), from seven different angles. None of the patients had a recurrence of the disease or acute organ toxicity. The researchers also agreed that a customized approach to individual treatment is required as each case is different. This was a small study and more trials are needed on larger groups for longer periods of time.

The British government hopes to offer this specialized treatment in some local hospitals by 2018. Meanwhile, adult and children who meet the clinical trial treatment criteria may be sent to the U.S. for treatment, sponsored by the NHS in Britain, covering treatment costs, travel and accommodation for the patient and immediate family.


British Journal of Cancer

Cancer Research

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