ZERO enrols 1000th child – a milestone in Australia’s medical history

06 Jul 2023

A milestone in Australia’s medical history was reached this week with the enrolment of the 1000th child in the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO), Australia’s national precision medicine program for children with cancer.

Prior to 2015, precision medicine was still in its infancy and was not even an option for children being treated for cancer in Australia. Today, it is a well-established approach and, through ZERO, is becoming available to increasing numbers of Australian children.

Led by Children’s Cancer Institute and Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, and including all nine of Australia’s children’s hospitals, ZERO began as a pilot study in NSW in 2015 before launching its first national clinical trial in 2017. Since that time, ZERO has helped children all over Australia.

When ZERO’s first national clinical trial began, the focus was on identifying new treatment options for children with high-risk cancers – those with relapsed, refractory, or rare cancers facing less than 30% chance of survival.  Some children are alive today who would almost certainly have died had they not taken part in this trial. 

Building on this success, ZERO is currently being expanded and by the end of 2023 will become available to all Australian children with cancer, regardless of the type of cancer or risk profile. With more than 1000 children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer in Australia annually, the number of lives ZERO will impact in the coming months and years is likely to be significant.

“We’re very proud of ZERO and all that’s been achieved so far,” said Associate Professor Vanessa Tyrrell, Program Leader of ZERO. “It really is an exceptional program, and is now recognised internationally as one of the best programs of its kind in the world.”

Samples from every child participating in ZERO are subjected to comprehensive analyses in the laboratory, including whole genome sequencing and RNA sequencing. This in-depth analysis is generating huge amounts of data that have simply never been available before. As a result, ZERO is providing unprecedented insights into childhood cancer.

By sharing these data and discoveries with scientists and clinicians internationally, ZERO is making a significant contribution to the global childhood cancer research effort. Ultimately this will lead to better outcomes for all children with cancer, wherever they live.

“ZERO is certainly having an impact on the lives of children enrolled on its national clinical trial. But beyond that, it’s changing our whole understanding of cancer in children,” explained A/Prof Tyrrell. “The implications of that are huge, and we’re extremely excited about the future impact ZERO is going to have, not just here in Australia, but worldwide.”

The Zero Childhood Cancer Program is supported by the Australian Government through the Medical Research Futures Fund, and by Minderoo Foundation through its Collaborate Against Cancer Initiative.

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