UNSW childhood cancer researchers have been awarded close to $4.5 million to fund groundbreaking new research set to significantly improve the outcomes for children with cancer.

The two research projects, funded by the Cancer Council NSW, will investigate new methods to prevent and treat leukaemia alongside programs to enhance the quality of life for childhood cancer survivors and their families.

UNSW Conjoint Professor Murray Norris and his team at the Children’s Cancer Institute are extending their work on molecular targeted therapies, which are expected to improve treatment options and survival rates for children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

At any one time there are roughly 1,500 Australian children on active treatment for cancer, or at risk of relapse and Professor Norris said there is an urgent need for new treatments and to prioritise the development of new drugs.

“Traditional anti-cancer drugs have high toxicity levels which cause significant side-effects, particularly in the growing tissues of a child,” Professor Norris said

“Sadly, these leave 70% of long-term childhood cancer survivors with chronic health problems including secondary cancer, infertility and poor mental health.”

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“Molecular therapies have enormous potential to significantly improve survival rates and quality of life for childhood survivors as they directly target the leukaemia cells while reducing the impact on healthy cells.

“Alongside these new treatments, we’re also investigating agents that would stop leukaemia cells from developing and help to prevent the disease in children who are at high risk of leukaemia.”

The second project, led by UNSW Associate Professor Claire Wakefield, Program Leader at the Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, will help childhood cancer patients and their families with the ongoing survivorship issues they face.

“There are now more than 20,000 young Australians who are survivors of childhood cancer,” Professor Wakefield said.

“The health system and community organisations have a responsibility to meet the needs of these survivors, but also to support families in the case where a child dies from their cancer.

“Currently, there is a lack of research in this area and insufficient programs in place to help the people that need it most.

“With funding from the Cancer Council NSW, our team has developed six separate programs that focus on meeting the needs of cancer survivors.”

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