Following the success of our last Google Hangout, in partnership with Science on Google+, we’re thrilled to be able to bring you another fascinating discussion. This time, in honour of Children’s Cancer Awareness Month in September, we hosted two of the UK’s leading experts on cancer in kids and teens – Professor Pam Kearns, who heads our Children’s Cancer Trials Team at the University of Birmingham, and Professor Richard Gilbertson, newly arrived at our Cambridge Institute from St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in the US.
More than three quarters of children diagnosed with cancer today will survive, compared with just a quarter back in the 1970s. But, as Pam points out, this impressive progress hides two important facts: “If you do the calculation that still means 300 children a year in this country don’t survive cancer, and it’s still the commonest cause of death from disease in children. And the second thing is that it’s a spectrum. It’s not just one disease in children, it’s a lot of different diseases.
“For some of those diseases – such as a type of leukaemia called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – we have very good treatment and survival, with cure rates well into 90 per cent. But there are other diseases – importantly a large group of brain tumours, Ewing sarcoma and bone tumours – where we haven’t made the progress we really need to.”
During our half hour chat Pam and Richard discuss some of the ways they’re working to change this picture. They talk about the key differences between childhood and adult cancers – and what researchers working on each of them can learn from each other – as well as the scientific and logistical challenges of delivering more effective, kinder treatments to kids, teens and young adults through international clinical trials. We also discuss the promise of using drugs designed for other diseases to treat children’s cancers, and the particular issues faced by teenagers with cancer.
Finally, we hear their personal stories about why they chose a career in children’s cancer research.
For Pam, it was the last patient she saw as a doctor just before starting a stint in lab-based research. As she explains: “The mum took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘Will you be finding a cure for my child?’ It was so heartfelt and it made me realise that every single piece of work we do as researchers isn’t just about academic interest, it actually has to make a difference to patients in the clinic.”
She’s absolutely right. We’re not going to stop until we’ve beaten cancer for every child, teen and young adult. Help us save young lives from cancer – support our Kids & Teens campaign today.