New hope for a better treatment for childhood cancer

October 13, 2008

Children who are diagnosed with cancer could benefit from better diagnosis and treatment in the future thanks to a new research project involving clinicians and scientists at The University of Nottingham.

Experts at the University are part of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group which has just secured £2.5 million pounds from Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. They will use the money over the next five years to develop and test new ways of scanning childhood tumours in depth to give doctors a more detailed diagnosis. It will also give them a better indication of how to treat the tumour and whether it will respond to new drugs.

The grant is part of a nationwide investment of £50m to establish four large cancer imaging centres and five cancer imaging research programmes. The cancer imaging initiative will help the development and introduction of the latest imaging technologies to help advances in basic and clinical cancer research.

Cancer is the most common cause of death from disease in children with most cases involving solid tumours. Around 1,500 children are diagnosed every year in the UK. At present conventional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the usual technique for scanning of patients but it provides limited, mainly anatomical, information. This research project will look at how more accurate ways of analysing tumours, using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) and Diffusion/Perfusion MRI of tumour tissue, can be better and more widely used by doctors treating children with cancer. Diffusion MRI measures the molecular mobility of water in tissue, while perfusion MRI measures the rate at which blood is delivered to tissue. It gives a much clearer picture of the nature and composition of the tumour in a non-invasive way. Treatment can then be more accurately tailored.

The Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group, funded by Cancer Research UK, runs clinical trials for paediatric cancer at specialist centres across the UK. It has formed a Functional Imaging Group to develop the use of the techniques in treating children with brain tumours. This significant new grant means the group's research can be extended to examine other Magnetic Resonance methods and their use on tumours in the rest of the body. The information will be disseminated and evaluated through the group's established clinical trials network in the UK. This will make sure as many children as possible benefit from the latest MRI technology.

Professor of Paediatric Neuro-Oncology, Richard Grundy, from Nottingham University Medical School, said: "We all delighted that we have won this grant. Fortunately cancer in children is relatively uncommon compared to adults, reinforcing the need to develop and test the role of new techniques or treatments as a collaborative effort. This important grant from Cancer Research UK and the EPSRC allows us to investigate advanced Magnetic Resonance imaging to improve our understanding and treatment of childhood cancer. This funding and recognition of NUH should also help our aspirations locally to develop an imaging centre dedicated for children as part of the new Nottingham Children's Hospital development."

Professor Herbie Newell, Director of Translational Research at Cancer Research UK, said: "Imaging is an invaluable tool in the fight against cancer. Being able to see what's happening inside cells is vitally important in understanding how treatments are currently working and the best ways to improve them."

University of Nottingham

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