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about Zero Childhood Cancer?
What is the Zero Childhood Cancer Program?
The Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) is Australia’s first-ever precision medicine program for children and young people with cancer. Led by Children’s Cancer Institute and the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, it is a true multidisciplinary team effort of researchers and clinicians, and includes all nine of Australia’s children’s hospitals together with 22 national and international research partners. Conducting in-depth genomic analysis for each child enrolled, ZERO aims to improve survival, reduce side effects, and advance science’s understanding of childhood cancer for the benefit of all.
What is precision medicine?
The term ‘precision medicine’ refers to in depth individual analysis of each child’s tumour to identify the unique genetic pathways and makeup of each cancer. In the case of ZERO, precision medicine means analysing each child’s cancer at a genomic level, to look for any genetic alterations that could be driving the cancer’s growth. This can lead to a whole new way of understanding that child’s cancer, which can potentially be used to help inform everything from diagnosis to treatment.
How does ZERO work?
When a child joins ZERO, samples from the child and their cancer are sent to Children’s Cancer Institute and ZERO partner organisations, where scientists carry out comprehensive analysis and testing to find out as much as possible about the cancer. A rapid report is issued to the doctor looking after each patient, highlighting the critical genetic features of the tumour that may influence diagnosis, prognosis and treatment strategies. For high risk patients the results of all this analysis and testing are made available to an expert team of clinicians and scientists who – where possible – make treatment recommendations for that child, based on the genomic findings. This information is then provided to the child’s oncologist, who takes responsibility for all treatment decisions and the child’s care.
Who is ZERO available to, and where?
Currently ZERO is open to all children with high-risk cancer being treated at any one of Australia’s nine children’s hospitals. Over the coming months, ZERO is being progressively expanded, with more patient groups becoming eligible to be enrolled by their treating oncologist. By the end of 2023, ZERO will be available to all Australians aged 0 to 18 years diagnosed with cancer, regardless of their risk profile or type of cancer, or where in Australia they live.
What has ZERO achieved so far?
Some children are alive today who almost certainly would not be without ZERO, while other children have had precious months added to their lives.
Data from the first 250 children to take part in ZERO’s first national precision medicine trial show that a treatment recommendation was able to be provided in more than 70% of cases, and that 70% of children who received the recommended treatment had a complete or partial response, or their disease stablised. These results are remarkable given that those children taking part in the trial had the highest-risk cancers, with the lowest chance of survival, and many had already failed standard treatment.
Since this study was published in 2020, ZERO has continued to grow, with more than 900 children now being enrolled.
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