Two researchers are leading the charge against childhood brain cancer – Professor Michael Brown from the Cancer Clinical Trials Unit at Royal Adelaide Hospital and Dr Tessa Gargett from the Centre for Cancer Biology, SA Pathology and University of South Australia.
Together with their team, Professor Brown and Dr Gargett are developing an immunotherapy called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy.
CAR T-cell therapy uses the patient’s cancer-fighting T-cells by genetically engineering them in the lab to create ‘supercharged’ CAR T-cells.
These ‘supercharged’ cells are then returned to the patient in the hope they can attack the cancer cells in the brain.
“Brain cancer patients have very poor survival rates and limited treatment options. After standard treatment of surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, the cancer cells grow back and cause death in almost all patients,” Professor Brown said.
For kids who can’t have surgery to remove the brain tumour, CAR T-cell therapy offers an incredible treatment alternative in the fight against cancer.
“Surgery to remove brain tumours can be very risky by causing seizures, problems with speech, movement and balance and personality changes,” Dr Gargett said.
“The hope is that this treatment will slow or even stop tumour growth.”
The results from the pre-clinical trial are incredibly promising and bring new hope for kids fighting brain cancer.
Professor Brown and Dr Gargett are now progressing to clinical testing, aiming to make this treatment available for kids fighting brain cancer.
Together, the duo is hoping to help kids like Daryl.
Daryl was diagnosed with brain cancer at just 10 years old after a series of reoccurring styes in his eye and distorted vision.
An MRI scan confirmed there was a tumour impacting his vision, and Daryl had to go into surgery immediately to try to have it removed.
The surgery went on for over 8 hours, and after many attempts, the surgeon could not remove the tumour out of fear Daryl might become blind.
Daryl’s family had their worst fears confirmed – the tumour was cancerous, and he would need urgent treatment.
“When he heard – he jumped and said no – he did not believe it,” Daryl’s mum, Evelyn said.
“I was very worried. I never thought it would happen to me… but it did,” Daryl said.
Around 120 children per year are diagnosed with brain cancer in Australia, and about 55 per cent of these children are younger than five years old.
Most brain cancers are difficult or impossible to treat, leaving children fighting for their lives from this devastating disease.
Treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy can temporarily delay tumour growth, however, many chemotherapy drugs can’t cross the blood-brain barrier (our natural defence system against harmful chemicals entering the brain), leaving the cancer practically untreatable without surgery.
Supercharged cells could be a potential game-changer in fighting cancer for those who can’t have surgery or need an alternative to chemotherapy.
It’s not too late to donate! Support Professor Brown and Dr Gargett’s lifesaving research and donate online here.