A View on Children´s Cancer by Paco Arango, Founder of Fundación Aladina
Cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children. According to the World Health Organization´ statistics, 160,000 children are diagnosed of cancer and 90,000 will die every year worldwide. The most common types of cancer among young patients (0 to 14 years old) are leukemias (25%), brain and other central nervous system (CNS), tumors (20%) and lymphomas (15%).
In 2018, it is estimated that cancer incidence will be just 200 per million children across the world. The 5-year survival rate for children´s cancer is 82% - meaning that 82% of children with cancer survive five years or more after the disease diagnosis. Typically, these cancers occur in early childhood between 2 to 4 years of age, although it can and does affect children through their teenage years.
As in any disease, clinical research is the key to finding a cure; however, properly executed clinical trials require significant funding which is primarily devoted to diseases that affect large numbers of patients. The market for rare diseases, such as pediatric cancer, is unfortunately considered to be too small for major pharmaceutical companies and without the financial incentives needed to invest in developing new childhood cancer medications, leaving children with treatments that were originally formulated to treat adult cancers or treated as part of a clinical trials.
Children’s cancer is very different from adult, in terms of incidence (much lower), lack of preventive measures, therapy and response to medication. Therefore, adult cancer research results cannot be extrapolated to children’s cancer cases.
Although pediatric cancer death rates have declined by nearly 70 percent over the past four decades, the causes of most childhood cancers remain unknown. Most cancers in children are thought to develop as a result of gene mutations that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually emerging into full-blown cancer. In adults, these gene mutations reflect the cumulative effects of aging and long-term exposure to cancer-causing substances. However, identifying potential environmental causes of childhood cancer has been difficult, as cancer in children is rare and it is difficult to determine what children might have been exposed to early in their development. In addition, children with cancer might present the same symptoms that other common conditions.
The Spanish life sciences company, Life Length is currently conducting the ONCOCHECK study, the largest study ever conducted involving cancer and TAVs (Telomere-Associated Variables) is currently conducting two clinical studies in childhood cancer with the support of one of the most important children’s hospitals in Spain, Hospital Infantil Universitario Niño Jesús. These studies involve approximately 100 children with cancer as well as matching healthy children. The objective of these studies is to be able to throw light on how telomere dynamics can contribute to allow oncologists and hematologists to take better and more informed treatment decisions, thereby increasing the chances for beating the cancer and giving these children the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.
From the perspective of the Fundación Aladina , we are proud that our support of Hospital Niño Jesús is allowing them to collaborate with Life Length, the world leader in this emerging field of telomere diagnostics and we encourage you to visit and learn more about this important work at www.oncocheck.eu and www.lifelength.com.