Neuroblastoma: developing a new treatment for young children with cancer | Children's Charity

Neuroblastoma: developing a new treatment for young children with cancer

This research was completed on 30 June 2017

Published on 19 November 2014

Around 100 children are diagnosed with a cancer called neuroblastoma each year in the UK.1,2 Most are young – less than five years old.3,4 Although treatment often proves life-saving, it has side effects and doesn’t always work. Sadly, around a third of children lose their lives within five years of being diagnosed with neuroblastoma.4 Professor Robert Mairs, of Glasgow’s Institute of Cancer Sciences, is developing a new combination treatment in the hope of reducing the suffering that’s associated with side effects and saving more children’s lives.

Action Medical Research and Neuroblastoma UK are together funding this study

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Neuroblastoma is normally diagnosed in babies and very young children,” explains Professor Mairs. “It is a cancer that starts in specialised nerve cells, often within the abdomen. First symptoms can be vague, so the cancer has often spread by the time it is diagnosed, meaning children then need immediate and intensive treatment.”

Standard treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Children can experience unpleasant side effects during treatment, including nausea, tiredness and hair loss, as well as longer-term problems such as hearing loss, lowered fertility and heart problems.

A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating and those affected often worry about the future. With neuroblastoma, children’s chances of making a good recovery vary considerably. “Children with low-risk disease have an excellent chance of being cured,” says Professor Mairs. “Sadly, though, children with high-risk disease who do not respond to treatment or whose cancer recurs after treatment have a much worse outlook, with many going on to lose their lives.”


How could this research help?

“We aim to improve the treatment of children who are suffering from neuroblastoma,” says Professor Mairs. “We are combining a radioactive drug called 177Lu-DOTATATE – which seeks out and destroys cancer cells – with other drugs that make cancers more susceptible to radiation-induced damage.”

This type of treatment is called targeted molecular radiotherapy. It can be used to treat cancers that have spread through the body, even destroying tumours that are too small to detect by scanning.

“We are testing several different drugs with 177Lu-DOTATATE in the laboratory to find out which combination is the safest and the most effective,” says Professor Mairs. “The next step will be clinical trials in children with neuroblastoma.”

Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumour of childhood, after brain tumours.3,5 It makes up around eight per cent of children’s cancers.5 A safer and more effective treatment is urgently needed.

Project LeaderProfessor Robert J Mairs DSc FRCR
Project team
  • Dr Mark Gaze MD FRCP FRCR
  • Dr Colin Rae PhD
LocationInstitute of Cancer Sciences, University of Glasgow
Other locations
  • Department of Oncology, University College London Hospitals
Duration36 months
Grant awarded9 June 2014
Start date1 July 2014
End date30 June 2017
Grant amount£179,874.00
Grant codeGN2196

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1. NHS Choices. Neuroblastoma. Website accessed 25 June 2014.

2. The Neuroblastoma Society. Home page. Website accessed 25 June 2014.

3. The Neuroblastoma Society. Neuroblastoma FAQs. Website accessed 30 June 2014.

4. Cancer Research UK. Childhood cancer survival statistics. Website accessed 16 September 2014.

5. Macmillan. Neuroblastoma in children. Website accessed 26 June 2014.

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