Pediatric Cancer Research

Cancer research is making significant strides toward new medicines, surgical techniques and, in some cases, even cures for pediatric cancer. Children’s hospitals specializing in pediatric cancer treatment are often involved in research and clinical trials. Participation in clinical trials gives your child access to new treatments and medicines not currently available to the public.

New Advances in Cancer Research and Clinical Trials

As genetic cancer research increases the medical community’s understanding of how cancer cells develop, grow and spread, clinical trials are able to focus with greater accuracy on medicines’ effectiveness and new treatment models. Advances in non-medical technology are also being applied to cancer research.

Nanotechnology: The Next Wave in Cancer Research?

In 2004 the National Cancer Institute announced its intent to create a $144.3 million cancer research initiative based around the growing field of nanotechnology. “Nanobots” are tiny mechanisms as small as molecules. The National Cancer Institute’s initiative (which will last five years) should prompt a wave of nanotechnology cancer research and clinical trials in all areas of cancer research.

What advances does the National Cancer Institute see in the field of nanotechnology and cancer research? Targeted delivery of chemotherapy directly to cancer cells is one possible outcome of nanotechnology clinical trials. If nanobots can be developed that locate cancer cells and deliver medicine or radiation particles directly to the cells, side effects from medicine would be reduced in both frequency and severity.

Targeted medicine delivery would cause a greater percentage of the medicine to reach the exact point of the cancer, rather than being spread throughout the body. Targeted medicine delivery would also improve outcomes for inoperable tumors such as brain tumors and cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, which affect the blood.

Cancer researchers also hope to use nanotechnology to detect small tumors. The earlier a tumor is detected, the lower the chance that it has spread, and the better the chance of survival. Clinical trials exploring these areas of cancer research will soon be available.

Stem Cell Research

Stem cells, primitive nerve cells found in the umbilical cord, blood and bone marrow, are the subject of several cancer research investigations. Stem cell infusions may help restore normal function to bone marrow after chemotherapy treatments for lymphoma or leukemia.

A specific type of brain tumor known as intracranial glioma may one day be treated with stem cells. Intracranial glioma cells spread through brain tissue, “seeding” sites of future tumors in locations that make brain surgery dangerous or impossible.

Preliminary clinical trials on mice have successfully used neural stem cells to deliver medicine to glioma cells and kill developing tumors. This promising area of cancer research requires more study, but may someday lead to human-based clinical trials.

Cancer Vaccines

Cancer research has long sought cancer vaccines. Unlike normal vaccines, which prevent illness, a cancer vaccine would stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies that actively destroy cancer cells, thereby reducing the required doses of medicine and reducing side effects.

Cancer research has yet to produce an effective cancer vaccine. However, as knowledge of cancer cell genetics and the immune system continues to grow, the likelihood of developing effective cancer vaccines increases. Clinical trials are under way investigating the possibility of lymphoma vaccines.

Your Child and Clinical Trials

Participation in cancer research clinical trials provides your child with top-quality care from expert pediatric oncologists, whether your child receives the medicine under investigation or receives established treatments as part of the clinical trial control group.

As annual incidence rates for most pediatric cancers are low, the demand for participants in pediatric clinical trials is always high. In addition to expert treatment, clinical trials often cover a child’s medical expenses for the duration of the trial: Cancer treatment can place a great strain on a family’s finances.

Clinical trials and cancer research open the door to possible cures in the future, offering hope not only to the children participating in the trials but to many others as well.

Resources

American Cancer Society (2006). What’s new in non-Hodgkin lymphoma research and treatment? Retrieved September 5, 2007, from the ACS Web site: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_6X_Whats_new_in_non-Hodgkins_lymphoma_research_and_treatment_32.asp.

American Cancer Society (2006). What’s new in Wilms’ tumor research and treatment? Retrieved September 5, 2007, from the ACS Web site: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_6X_Whats_new_in_Wilms_tumor_research_and_treatment.asp?sitearea=.

National Institutes of Health (2004). National Cancer Institute announces major commitment to nanotechnology for cancer research. Retrieved September 5, 2007, from the National Cancer Institute Web site: http://nano.cancer.gov/news_center/news_release_2004_09_13.asp.