Lab Canada

Reducing harm of childhood leukemia treatment the focus of new research

Toronto, ON – Four new research teams are receiving funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and six leading cancer organizations for projects focussing on childhood leukemia. A total of $12 million over five years in funding is being provided to the projects.

Two of the projects are based at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto, one is based at the Child & Family Research Institute at the BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, and the fourth is in Montreal at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center. These teams will look for ways to reduce the harmful effects of cancer treatment on children, including damage to the brain, heart and other major organs.

CIHR has partnered with the following organizations to support the initiative: Garron Family Cancer Centre at Sick Kids, C17 Council, Canadian Cancer Society, Cancer Research Society, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario.

“As Canada’s leading paediatric academic health-care centre, SickKids sees firsthand the devastating impact cancer can have on children and their families,” says Mary Jo Haddad, SickKids president and CEO. “Through the funding from this important initiative, SickKids researchers can continue improving cancer treatments for Canada’s children and youth that will enhance the quality of life for paediatric cancer patients.”

The four successful teams are as follows:

Nominated principal investigator: Shinya Ito, Hospital for Sick Children;

Co-principal investigators: Sharon Guger, Johann H Hitzler, Deborah L O’Connor, Russell J Schachar, Brenda Spiegler, Rosanna Weksberg.

Title and description of project: Neurocognitive-Phenome, Genome, Epigenome and Nutriome In Childhood leukemia Survivors: N-PhenoGENICS. Dr Ito’s team will study how childhood leukemia treatment affects brain function, particularly attention deficit disorder, which can remain for a long time and have an impact on children’s academic performance and social activity. The team will study the factors that make some children more susceptible to this effect and explore mitigation strategies. Recent reports suggest that mutation of a gene involved in metabolism of the vitamin folate, is responsible. This study aims to discover if not only this gene but also other related genes are associated with this damage. If the responsible genes are found, the team will explore a strategy to avoid this side effect.

Funding: $1.9 million.

Nominated principal investigator: Paul Nathan, Hospital For Sick Children

Co-principal investigators: Paul F Kantor, Peter P Liu, Luc Mertens, Seema Mital

Title and description of project: Novel approaches to the prediction, diagnosis and treatment of cardiac late effects of childhood cancer. Dr Nathan’s team will study cardiotoxicity and evaluate the importance of genetic differences between individuals in determining who is at greatest risk of developing heart disease as a result of exposure to chemotherapeutic agents. The team brings together several integrated research cores to test new imaging and biomarker methods with the ultimate aim of earlier detection of heart disease before clinical symptoms develop or it becomes apparent on standard imaging tests. Vulnerable children can then be targeted, by modifying their cancer therapy, or by introducing medications that protect the heart from chemotherapy damage.

Funding: $2.8 million

Nominated principal investigator: Kirk Schultz, Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia

Co-principal investigators: Sylvain Baruchel, Mary L McBride, Lesley G Mitchell, Shahrad G Rassekh, Ross T Tsuyuki, Michele Zappitelli

Title and description of project: Applying Biomarkers to Long-term Effects in Child and Adolescent Cancer Treatment (ABLE Team). Dr Schultz’s team will assess biomarkers to identify children at risk of adverse effects of their successful cancer treatments, and to predict the course of development of their long-term complications. Identifying these high-risk children will lead to preemptive and timely therapies to minimize or eliminate these effects. Studies will focus on biomarkers associated with hearing loss, kidney failure, blood clotting problems, and a specific form of tissue rejection called chronic graft-versus host disease after hematopoietic transplantation used to treat cancer. The studies include 8 pediatric centers across Canada.

Funding: $4.3 million

Nominated principal investigator: Daniel Sinnett, Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre

Co-principal investigators: Nathalie B Alos, Gregor U Andelfinger, Maja Krajinovic, Caroline Laverdière, Emile Levy, Philippe Robaey

Title and description of project: Genomic determinants of common long-term treatment effects in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivor. Dr Sinnett’s team will focus on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most frequent cancer in children. Roughly 80% of cases can be cured with current treatment protocols. More than two-thirds of the survivors experience chronic or late-occurring health problems, often not clinically apparent until decades after treatment. The team will study ways to prevent or mitigate treatment related toxicities in a subset of the most common late-occurring adverse effects observed in childhood ALL survivors, including neurocognitive effects, metabolic syndrome, cardiotoxicity and bone morbidity.

Funding: $3 million