Royal Adelaide Hospital Research Renews Hope For Children’s Cancer

Children suffering from fatal paediatric brain cancer are being given renewed hope as a new treatment becomes available for the first time in Australia after extensive research led by the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH).

For the first time in Australia, treatment will use genetically modified white blood cells (known as CAR-T cells) to target children with the rare brain cancer, Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).

In partnership with Sydney Children’s Hospital (SCH), University of South Australia (UniSA), SA Pathology and with funding support from The Hospital Research Foundation and the NeuroSurgical Research Foundation, the RAH’s research has led to a collaborative clinical trial for DIPG.

DIPG is the most aggressive of all childhood cancers and one of the only cancers that lacks effective treatment. The fast-growing and incurable tumour forms in the part of a child’s brain responsible for vital functions like breathing, sleeping, bladder control and balance.

On average, 20 Australian children are diagnosed with DIPG each year. Sadly, most will die from the disease within 12 months of diagnosis.

During the past four years, researchers at the RAH and the Centre for Cancer Biology have been investigating this new cell therapy to treat aggressive brain cancers.

CAR-T cells are super-powered immune cells that act as a living drug. When given to the patient they can find and attack cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

The Sydney Children’s Hospital will send the children’s immune cells to South Australia where they will be modified and taught to target and attack the tumour. The cells will then be sent back to SCH where they will be infused into the patient to scan and destroy harmful cancer cells.

“We have been working on this treatment for the past four years so I am incredibly proud that these young patients will finally benefit from our innovative work here at the Royal Adelaide Hospital,” said Royal Adelaide Hospital Cancer Clinical Trials Unit Director, Professor Michael Brown.

“Each patient’s cells will be transported here to South Australia where we’ll genetically modify them so that when given to back to the patient they will track down and destroy their cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells intact.

The trial is open to all children across Australia and families should direct enquiries to the Sydney Children’s Hospital.