Aiming for Zero
The Audi Foundation joins forces with the Children’s Cancer Institute.
15 February, 2023
Battling childhood cancer and looking for ways to not merely fight them, but ultimately irradicate them altogether is the focus of the Children’s Cancer Institute
It is hard to imagine a more confronting moment than receiving news that your child has cancer – and yet that is what more than 1000 children and their families are faced with each year in Australia. The types of cancer are many and varied, but as a group, cancer claims the lives of more children and young adolescents in Australia than any other disease. Sadly, three children will die each week and of the 80 percent who survive, 70 percent will have lasting effects.
Battling childhood cancer and looking for ways to not merely fight them, but ultimately irradicate them altogether is the focus of the Children’s Cancer Institute, the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to curing childhood cancer.
To that end, the Audi Foundation has entered into a partnership with the Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI), providing ongoing funding to help continue this vital, life-saving work.
“The work of the Children’s Cancer Institute is inspirational and is delivering real results in the fight against cancers affecting young people,” says Jeff Mannering, Chairman of the Audi Foundation and Director of Audi Australia.
“The Audi Foundation is proud to support this critically important work, not just helping to improve individual outcomes now, but with the genuine hope that one day cancer becomes a thing of the past.”
The CCI draws on some of the finest medical minds in the country, its Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO), as the name suggests, looking to ultimately reduce the number of cancer deaths in children to zero, by using research to better understand the causes and characteristics of the disease in order to develop a personalised treatment program designed specifically for each individual patient.
This approach recognises the fact that children’s cancers are as individual as the children themselves and there is no such thing as a single treatment that can work across the board. It acknowledges the fact that some drugs commonly used in the treatment of these cancers are antiquated to say the least – some chemotherapy drugs for example, having been ‘developed before the moon landing’.
“Even the best treatments that have traditionally been given to children, simply don’t work,” says Professor Michelle Haber AM, one of the institute’s original researchers and now Executive Director, Children’s Cancer Research.
“The reason for that is that every child and every cancer is different.”
Through its research, the ZERO program seeks to understand the genetic changes and the causes at a molecular level that lead to childhood cancer and then tailor specific treatments to each child, targeting their specific condition as opposed to the more tradition ‘scatter gun’ approach.
This targeted approach, aptly named ‘precision medicine’ has yielded tremendous results, sparing these young patients many of the side effects of some traditional approaches where therapies used to attack cancers also cause significant damage to healthy cells in the process.
This approach recognises the fact that children’s cancers are as individual as the children themselves and there is no such thing as a single treatment that can work across the board
Finding ‘weaknesses’ in a cancer’s development that can be targeted and treated more effectively
By using the likes of nanomedicine for example – engineered materials too small to be visible with the naked eye – cancer cells can be targeted specifically, avoiding damage to healthy cells and minimising adverse effects of treatment.
“The right drugs at the right time for the right child’s cancer,” says Professor Haber. “It is true bench to bedside research where technology, the latest advances in science actually translating real time into changed treatments for children in the clinic.”
The CCI was established in the mid-1970s, born out of a lack of research into the high incidence of cancers affecting children. Since then it has grown in size and stature to employ more than 300 researchers, medical students and operational personnel, working across myriad disciplines, all looking at ways of improving and understanding treatments and outcomes. The ZERO program – the country’s first precision medicine program designed specifically for children and adolescents with cancer – now includes all eight of the country’s leading children’s hospitals as well as unprecedented national and international research collaborations – bringing the sharpest minds to bear on all facets of relevant research.
The results to date are real and tangible – quite literally life-saving. The ongoing research takes place across multiple areas and medical disciplines. From improved diagnostics to increasing the understanding of individual cancers and how they develop at a molecular level – what drives growth. Finding ‘weaknesses’ in a cancer’s development that can be targeted and often developing new treatments to do just that.
Finding less invasive treatments and testing new drugs and treatments to ensure they can be safely used on patients. What works and what doesn’t – and why. Using real time data to treat patients more proactively and in many cases to avoid relapse are all part of the extensive program that is ZERO.
‘Fuelling progressive approaches to medical technology and treatment’ is one of the key areas of the Audi Foundation’s focus, and the partnership with the Foundation will see annual funding provided for a senior researcher to continue the work. Of course this ongoing research across so many important disciplines does not only benefit children dealing with cancer now but will help children in the future.
A unique combination of research and clinical applications, ZERO is making real and tangible progress, but there is so much more to be done. Where a positive cancer diagnosis in a child was once considered a death sentence, the survival rate is now over 80 percent thanks to medical research, but that is still not good enough and is what drives the tireless researchers at the CCI.
It is a complex puzzle to solve, but with each piece of research, each data sample and breakthrough, the day comes closer where those life-changing diagnoses will become a thing of the past. ‘It’s not if’ as they say at the Children’s Cancer Institute, ‘it’s when’.
A unique combination of research and clinical applications, ZERO is making real and tangible progress, but there is so much more to be done
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