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What is the Zero Childhood Cancer Program?

Zero Childhood Cancer is the largest single initiative ever undertaken for children with cancer in Australia. A truly ground-breaking program led by Children’s Cancer Institute and the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network that brings together all major Australian clinical and research groups working in childhood cancer to offer Australia’s first ever personalised medicine program for children with high-risk or relapsed cancer.

What is personalised medicine?

Personalised medicine is tailor-made treatment, customised to each individual patient. For example two children who have the ‘same’ kind of cancer and who show the same symptoms, may respond very differently to the same anti-cancer drugs.

One size doesn’t fit all. By using personalised medicine, the goal of Zero Childhood Cancer is to treat each child’s cancer in the most targeted way possible, to improve survival, reduce side effects, and aim for a cure for every child.

What is involved and how does it work?

For Zero Childhood Cancer, scientists at Children’s Cancer Institute and other specialised laboratories around the country analyse cancer cells taken from each high-risk or relapsed child on the national clinical trial to precisely identify their cancer’s molecular and genetic features. We screen the cells against hundreds of drugs to find which ones, alone or in combination, are most likely to kill the cancer. We grow the cells in our laboratory models of disease to provide further evidence that these drugs are likely to be effective at treating the child’s cancer. All this information is used by the program’s Multidisciplinary Tumour Board to make decisions about the best treatment for each child.

The program’s ultimate goal is to help all children with cancer to survive and lead better quality lives by developing ways to tailor treatment for each child.

Which children can enrol in the Zero Childhood Cancer Program?

Zero Childhood Cancer is available to infants, children and adolescents with the highest-risk cancers, those with a less than 30% chance of survival. These children include those suffering from high-risk or relapsed cancer, childhood brain tumours, sarcomas, infant leukaemias and neuroblastomas. Participation in the trial is only possible through the child’s paediatric oncologist. 

If you want to find out more about enrolment, please visit our Families FAQs section here (link to Families FAQ section)

What is translational research and why is this important?

‘Bench to bedside’ research translates findings from fundamental scientific research into everyday clinical practice to improve human health and well-being. This approach gives children with cancer the highest possible chance of survival and quality of life. Zero Childhood Cancer brings together all major Australian clinical and research groups working in childhood cancer to form a translational research partnership that brings research closer to patients than ever before.

What has happened so far with Zero Childhood Cancer?

The first stage of the Zero Childhood Cancer program began in 2016 with a pilot study for children with high-risk cancer being treated in New South Wales. During this pilot, the platform required to create a personalised medicine pipeline was established and tested. This involved multiple steps, including developing a reception process for cancer samples being sent from all over Australia to a centralised tumour bank, and establishing the best possible methods for molecular profiling, drug screening and drug efficacy testing.

In 2017, following successful completion of the pilot study, a national clinical trial was launched. At 31 October 2018, 127 children with high-risk cancers from all over Australia have been enrolled on the state-of-the-art trial, which will run for three years. The trial is free to all children who meet enrolment criteria and is being sponsored by the Australian and New Zealand Haematology/Oncology group (ANZCHOG).

What is happening next?

The Zero Childhood Cancer clinical trial will remain open until 2020 and will be recruiting new children with aggressive cancer each year until then.

Through the trial, Zero Childhood Cancer is generating a wealth of new research data, including valuable molecular and genetic information about childhood cancers. This data is adding enormously to our knowledge and understanding of childhood cancer and will be shared nationally and internationally to contribute to future research discoveries. In this way, Zero Childhood Cancer is not only benefiting children today, but will continue to benefit all children with cancer in the future. 

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