Minister for Health Greg Hunt made the announcement as he launched the inaugural Childhood Brain Cancer Awareness Day at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. The annual event will be dedicated to raising public awareness of the impact of childhood brain cancer on patients, family and carers and the importance of childhood brain cancer-related research.
Minister Hunt said the government was committing $7 million in research funding to tackle childhood brain cancer, the second most common cancer diagnosed in Australian children. Around 100 Australian children up to the age of 14 are diagnosed with brain cancer each year, and it is estimated that 36 children will die from brain cancer in 2019.
The inaugural Childhood Brain Cancer Awareness Day focused on DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma), the deadliest form of childhood brain cancer. DIPG affects a part of the brain that cannot be treated with surgery or chemotherapy, and radiotherapy is only minimally effective, extending the child’s life by a matter of months.
“There have been no new treatments for brain cancer in decades, so we really need to work together and think outside the box when trying to design therapies,” Dr Jenkins said.
Dr Jenkins is investigating a cutting-edge immune therapy – called CAR T cell therapy – in childhood brain cancers, including the difficult-to-treat DIPG. CAR T cell therapy involves repurposing and engineering a patient’s own T cells and directing them to attack their own tumours. It has been one of the greatest advancements in cancer therapy in decades, and has shown great promise in the treatment of blood cancers.
“The role of my laboratory here at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is to apply this similar approach to the treatment of brain cancers,” Dr Jenkins said.
“We have designed and are now testing various T cell killing receptors that recognise paediatric brain cancer. Once we can kill brain cancer in a dish – then we test if it also works in a preclinical model, before one day in the future taking these discoveries through to the clinic.”
“I’m optimistic that our approach will go a long way in improving the treatment of brain cancer.”
Dr Jenkins said a lack of focused medical research funding on brain cancer had been a factor in the slow progress for brain cancer treatments.
“The recent government and continued philanthropic support and commitment to fund rare cancers like brain cancer, will enable researchers to make novel discoveries that will ultimately impact brain cancer patients and their families,” she said.
“I want to thank the wonderful family advocates and philanthropic organisations that have worked tirelessly to bring this issue to the attention of Australia and for the government for responding and establishing the Australian Brain Cancer Mission and for the ongoing support of Minister Hunt and Cancer Australia.”
Minister Hunt announced an additional $5 million in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund for childhood brain cancer clinical trials, with a grant round opening on 15 November 2019. The funding aims to enhance clinical trial activity, treatments, cures, and extend and improve quality of life for young Australians living with brain cancer.
Childhood Brain Cancer Awareness Day will be coordinated by The Kids’ Cancer Project and Cancer Australia, in collaboration with childhood and brain cancer groups, including people affected by childhood brain cancer, NGOs, researchers and government.
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