Brave brother steps up to help lit­tle Ava

A new na­tional can­cer treat­ment trial based on ge­netic screen­ing will bring hope for hun­dreds of ter­mi­nally ill chil­dren and their fam­i­lies, as re­ports.

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CAN­CER treat­ment for all suf­fer­ers, in­clud­ing chil­dren, could be rev­o­lu­tionised by a new clin­i­cal trial for Australia’s sick­est kids that starts to­day.

The Zero Child­hood Can­cer ini­tia­tive will be­gin a na­tional trial as 400 ter­mi­nally ill kids are pro­vided with per­son­alised can­cer treat­ment based on ge­netic screen­ing of in­di­vid­ual can­cer cells and tu­mours.

In an Aus­tralian first, sci­en­tists from 13 Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional re­search in­sti­tutes and doc­tors from all eight of Australia’s kids’ can­cer cen­tres will work to­gether to iden­tify and rec­om­mend new treat­ment op­tions.

Chil­dren’s tu­mour sam­ples will un­dergo com­plex test­ing and anal­y­sis, and then be tested against hun­dreds of an­ti­cancer drugs to see which treat­ments will work best for each child’s unique can­cer.

Chil­dren with the most ag­gres­sive can­cers with a less than 30 per cent sur­vival rate will be cho­sen to take part in the na­tional trial.

It builds on the suc­cess­ful NSW pi­lot with 60 chil­dren that be­gan in 2015.

Re­searchers hope the $40 mil­lion ini­tia­tive will pave the way for a new way of fight­ing can­cer for not just chil­dren but all those who are struck down by the big C.

Three chil­dren and ado­les­cents die ev­ery week in Australia from can­cer, de­spite sur­vival rates over the last 60 years in­creas­ing dra­mat­i­cally.

Michelle Haber, ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Chil­dren’s Can­cer In­sti­tute and re­search lead on the trial said this was the “most ex­cit­ing can­cer ini­tia­tive” she had ever known.

“There has never been any­thing on this scale in terms of col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­plex­ity and some­thing that will gen­uinely change the model of care for those at most se­ri­ous risk,” Pro­fes­sor Haber said.

She said this had the po­ten­tial to not only find bet­ter more ef­fec­tive treat­ments for can­cer but also to pre­vent can­cer in the first place.

“We see this study as hav­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary po­ten­tial not only in re­spect to the out­come for the 400 chil­dren on this trial but ul­ti­mately this will have a role in pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of can­cer for adults and chil­dren.”

“If we are map­ping the ge­netic se­quences of th­ese can­cers and the pa­tients. we can see what ge­netic mark­ers may have led to that per­son de­vel­op­ing the can­cer in the first place.”

Tracey O’Brien, di­rec­tor of the Kids Can­cer Cen­tre at the Sydney Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, said the Zero Child­hood Can­cer trial was the front­line in the “all-out war on can­cer”.

“As we recog­nise, ev­ery child dif­fer­ent, ev­ery sin­gle can­cer is unique, too,” Pro­fes­sor O’Brien said.

“Can­cer treat­ments are gen­er­ally poi­sons and if we can bet­ter un­der­stand the ge­net­ics of a par­tic­u­lar can­cer and tar­get treat­ments, we can save lives but also give bet­ter qual­ity of life by re­duc­ing the side ef­fects of the treat­ments cur­rently given.”

Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt said the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment was pro­vid­ing $20 mil­lion to sup­port the Zero Can­cer Ini­tia­tive. “(This) pro­gram brings to­gether the bright­est minds from re­search and puts Australia at the fore­front of in­no­va­tion in health care glob­ally,” Mr Hunt said.

Michael Os­born, Hae­ma­tol­o­gist at the Ade­laide Women’s and Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, said this would give fam­i­lies back hope with bet­ter treat­ments for their chil­dren.

“The Women’s and Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal haema­tol­ogy and on­col­ogy team is ex­tremely proud to be a part­ner in the Zero Child­hood Can­cer na­tional per­son­alised medicine pro­gram, and look for­ward to bring­ing this ex­cit­ing ini­tia­tive to South Aus­tralian chil­dren with can­cer,” Dr Os­born said. LIT­TLE fighter. The 12-month-old was di­ag­nosed with high-risk in­fan­tile acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia this year at just eight months of age.

A per­sis­tent mid­dle ear in­fec­tion and is­sues with feed­ing turned into the Polzin fam­ily’s worst night­mare; can­cer for their baby girl.

Next month, Ava’s 10year-old brother Blake will bravely do­nate his bone mar­row to give his lit­tle sis­ter a bet­ter shot at life.

But it might not be enough and Ava’s can­cer has a less than 30 per cent sur­vival rate, with chemo treat­ments so far tak­ing a heavy toll.

“It’s been re­ally, re­ally tough and the chemo in par­tic­u­lar has been quite in­tense for her and for us,” mother Sherie, 35, said. Ava Polzin is a

“Ava has a one in three chance that a bone-mar­row trans­plant won’t work but we’re hop­ing that given Blake is a sib­ling donor, she’ll have a bet­ter chance.”

Ms Polzin said that in the heart­break­ing sce­nario that Ava doesn’t re­spond to the bone mar­row trans­plant, an ini­tia­tive like the Zero Child­hood Can­cer na­tional trial would give the fam­ily back some hope.

Doc­tors had thought ini­tial rounds of chemo­ther­apy had stemmed Ava’s can­cer but it just con­tin­ued to re­turn.

“I think it would help im­mensely to have in­di­vid­u­alised treat­ment and tar­get her treat­ment to her own in­di­vid­ual needs,” Ms Polzin said.

“It would be re­ally help­ful es­pe­cially for high-risk pa­tients like Ava where their sur­vival rate is not as good.”

HOPE: Ava, her mother Sherie, father David and brother Blake, 10. Pic­ture: TROY SNOOK

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