Helping children with cancer | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - September 2014

Helping children with cancer

Germ cell tumours develop from cells that produce eggs or sperm so mostly occur in the ovaries or testes, but they can also develop in other parts of the body including the brain.Although survival rates are high, sadly some children still die and current treatments can have damaging long-term side effects for those who survive. Dr Bailey, pictured here, who is based at Cambridge University, says: “Children are currently treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Parents worry not only about whether their child will survive, but also about the toxicity of these therapies and how this might affect the rest of their child’s life.

“Children who survive can go on to develop long-term complications. For example, chemotherapy is associated with hearing loss, and kidney, heart and lung problems.” Dr Bailey hopes to develop a new, non-toxic treatment for these young cancer patients. She says: “I strongly believe that clinicians, like me, who care for children with cancer are perfectly placed to lead research into new treatments, with the aim of changing children’s lives for the better.” 

With Action funding, Dr Bailey is focusing on molecules called microRNAs – these are small pieces of genetic code that help control protein production in cells. Certain microRNAs are present in excessive amounts in germ cell cancers. Dr Bailey is investigating whether substances that block the action of these molecules could be developed into safer, more effective drug treatments. If her results are positive, the next step would be a trial in patients. “Our ultimate aim is to develop a better treatment for children and young people with germ cell cancers – one that improves survival rates and causes fewer long-term side effects, so that patients can live long and healthy lives after treatment,” she says.

Germ cell cancers can affect people of all ages, with testicular germ cell cancer being one of the commonest causes of cancer in young men. Better treatments would be welcomed by all. 

Action’s Research Training Fellowship scheme has been running for more than 40 years, supporting promising doctors and researchers early in their careers. In this time the charity has funded 170 fellowships, worth more than £12 million, and many of these recipients have gone on to become leaders in their field. Dr Bailey says: “I am honoured that Action Medical Research, a charity that has played a key role in supporting research into childhood diseases for many years, has placed its faith in me and my project.”

Help us spread the word