Just $5m to find the cure

Malaria drug may beat can­cer

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JANE HANSEN

MONEY is the only thing is stand­ing be­tween Aus­tralian sci­en­tists and a cure for the death sen­tence that is brain can­cer in chil­dren.

“An an­nual bud­get of $5 mil­lion would rev­o­lu­tionise the ap­proach to this can­cer,” on­col­o­gist As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor David Ziegler said.

In his lab­o­ra­tory at the Syd­ney’s Chil­dren’s Can­cer In­sti­tute, Prof Ziegler and his team have been look­ing for a nee­dle in a haystack, a way to kill Dif­fuse In­trin­sic Pon­tine Glioma (DIPG), a brain stem tu­mour con­sid­ered 100 per cent fa­tal.

They may have found it in a malaria drug.

All chil­dren di­ag­nosed with the tu­mour, which is in­op­er­a­ble given its po­si­tion in the brain stem, are given six to nine months to live.

With 18 do­nated brain tu­mours, the team has grown DIPG tu­mours in the lab and then ex­posed them to thou­sands of known drugs. Nearly all the known chemo­ther­apy drugs have failed on DIPG but, in a break­through mo­ment, the anti-malar­ial drug worked.

“We’ve found a very small num­ber of drugs that are very ef­fec­tive (at killing the tu­mours) and the anti-malar­ial drugs seems to be very ef­fec­tive. In the test tube and in mouse mod­els it kills this can­cer,” Prof Ziegler said.

It is the most promis­ing break­through to date for a can­cer that has been sub­jected to 250 drugs tri­als, all of which have failed.

The sci­en­tists be­gan their re­search four years ago with the help of seed fund­ing from the griev­ing par­ents of Benny Wills, who died aged just four in Septem­ber 2009.

Benny Wills Brain Tu­mour Re­search Pro­gram and The Cure Starts Now char­ity both do­nated to the ini­tial re­search be­fore the Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil in­vested $1.6 mil­lion.

“We are work­ing as fast as we can and we are hop­ing for our first trial to open next year,” he said.

Benny Wills’ mother Imo­gen said the break­through was amaz­ing.

“It came as a com­plete shock to me when Benny was di­ag­nosed that there was lit­er­ally noth­ing any­one could do. If this had been done 30 years ago, we could have beaten it and if we don’t get off our ar­ses, it won’t change in an­other 30 years,” she said.

“It’s ac­tu­ally these pa­tients and their fam­i­lies that drive us to get out of bed ev­ery morn­ing and try to find new treat­ments and to start mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in out­come for these kids,” Prof Ziegler said.

Imo­gen and Dave Wills lost son Benny to brain can­cer and are fund­ing drug tri­als.

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