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Helping prevent damage to the brains of children with cancer

Children with cancer often receive chemotherapy targeted at the brain to prevent their disease recurring. This is a vital part of treatment but can cause damage to normal tissue, leading to reductions in IQ, attention span and memory. Dr Christina and her inspirational team are developing tests that will help predict which children are at risk of these complications.

Our funding will help the team develop ground-breaking new tests that will help doctors predict which children are at risk from complications arising from chemotherapy targeted at the brain.

Project Progress...

Christina Halsey

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Biomarkers and discovery of new therapeutic targets for chemotherapy associated neurotoxicity

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr Christina Halsey

  • Research Centre

    University of Glasgow

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Glasgow G12 8TA

  • Start Date

    1 October 2015

  • Duration

    3 years

  • Grant Amount

    £166,088

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Overview

Children living with leukaemia and some other cancers are given brain-targeted chemotherapy, and although it usually offers a positive outcome, it’s toxic and can lead to reduced IQ, reduced attention span and impaired memory.

Currently there’s no way to predict which children will develop these problems and there are no treatments to prevent or reduce them. So there’s an urgent need to design brand new therapies.

In this exciting and wide-ranging study, young people will play fun computer games that test reaction times, attention span and problem solving skills. The results will be analysed to see if changes in the ability to perform these tasks predict long-term problems.

The team will also collect samples taken during treatment, and analyse them with the aim of developing new diagnostic tests and antidotes.

What difference will this project make?

Although most children diagnosed with the form of leukaemia known as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) can now receive highly successful therapy, treatment-related toxicity can be a major problem.

The vital work done by Dr Christina and her colleagues will determine whether it’s possible to identify children at risk of brain complications from chemotherapy. If so, these children would then be candidates for new approaches to reduce the damaging effects of chemotherapy on the brain. This could involve ‘brain training’ computer game-based programmes, new drugs or alterations in the chemotherapy regime.

One important outcome of this study is that it will determine whether a drug target recently identified by Dr Peter Cole in New York might be relevant for young people who live with leukaemia. If so, this would offer an exciting new way to treat or prevent brain toxicity without interfering with the anti-cancer effects of chemotherapy.

Although this study concentrates on paediatric ALL, many other childhood cancers are treated with chemotherapy that can damage the brain. The results could, therefore, have relevance to a wide range of childhood cancers.

About the Research Team

Dr Christina Halsey is a Consultant Paediatric Haematologist at Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, and holds a Clinical Senior Lecturer post at the University of Glasgow. She has assembled a large research team, and her co-investigators are Dr Frederick van Delft of Newcastle University and Dr Peter Cole of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Dr van Delft’s research interests include understanding the genetic influences on the treatment of leukaemia. Dr Cole has published on the development of diagnostic tests for brain toxicity and has identified a potential new drug target.

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