Acute leukaemia is the most common cancer that affects children. Fortunately cure rates for childhood leukaemia have improved dramatically during the last 50 years. While there were no treatments at all for this disease in the 1950s it is now one of the most curable types of cancers. However, there is still considerable room for improvement in our treatments and the doctors at the Kids Cancer Centre (KCC) have an active research program whose ultimate aim is to achieve a 100% cure rate.
Research covers the complete spectrum, including; laboratory research into the cause of childhood leukaemia, development of new tests to detect leukaemia cells, testing of new treatments in children with relapsed disease and participation in international Phase III studies. The team has worked with an international consortium to investigate the genetic causes of childhood leukaemia, making exciting discoveries into the specific genetic changes that result in children developing leukaemia.
The clinical research has helped develop a highly specific and sensitive test for Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) that can detect one leukaemia cell hiding in as many as 500,000 normal cells. The test can predict children who are at high risk of relapsing from their disease, and the research also found using more intensive treatment for these children can prevent relapse and dramatically improve their cure rate.
In conjunction with national and international collaborators the team has worked to develop Phase III trials of leukaemia treatment to ensure patients are receiving the state-of-the-art therapies, this has resulted in continually increasing cure rates.
A further important part of the research program into childhood leukaemia is to make sure new drugs are available to children who do not respond to standard treatment. To make sure that this happens, the team has joined with a group of doctors from around the world to form the Therapeutic Advances in Childhood Leukaemia (TACL) consortium. With its headquarters in Los Angeles, this group works closely with leading experts in childhood leukaemia to develop new treatments and to test them in clinical trials. At any given time the team at the Kids Cancer Centre has a number of different trials open to make sure that treatment options can be offered for all children, even those with the most aggressive forms of disease.