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Accelerating the delivery of personalised treatment to children with neuroblastoma using MRI

Using Biomarkers has helped to improve response rates in adult cancers from 4% to 50%. We urgently need to get new treatments to children with neuroblastoma, but can’t test their effectiveness using adult methods. This project is looking how we can adapt MRI techniques to speed up testing and monitoring new treatments.

Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumour in children, and several promising new therapies are being tested in research laboratories. But we need to find a way to test these drugs more quickly so that we can get them to the children who need them.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Accelerating Personalised Treatment for Children with Neuroblastoma with MRI Biomarkers

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr Yann Jamin

  • Research Centre

    Institute of Cancer Research

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Sutton, SM2 5NG

  • Start Date

    1 October 2014

  • Duration

    5 years

  • Grant Amount

    --

Overview

Neuroblastoma accounts for six per cent of all childhood cancers, making it the second most common solid tumour in children. It affects just under 100 children a year in the UK.

Doctors are researching new, effective and safe treatments for children with this form of cancer. But we need to find a way of speeding up how we test new drugs so that we can get them to the children who need them.

In adult cancers we now routinely measure biological characteristics (biomarkers), which are things like levels of particular proteins. They show whether drugs are affecting the cancer cell, and also which patients will benefit most from each drug, and have helped to improve response rates in adult cancers from 4 per cent to 50 per cent. But they usually rely on a biopsy, removing samples of a tumour for testing before and after treatment. For many children with this condition, these operations would be too dangerous.

Dr Yann is looking how we can adapt techniques using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology so that they can be used to help children. He’ll also explore new ways of monitoring response to treatment and identifying when treatment isn’t working.

What difference will this project make?

Scientists are developing new ways to treat children with neuroblastoma. But we need to find a way to safely get these treatments from research labs to the children’s bedside. In adults, biomarkers have revolutionised drug development, improving response rates to treatment from 4 per cent to 50 per cent. This hasn’t yet happened in children’s cancer, partly because we often can’t safely operate on children to perform the biopsies which enable us to see how well treatments are working.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safe and non-invasive way to assess tumours. Advanced functional and molecular MRI scans give us a clear picture, including size and shape, blood supply, and altered metabolism.

We can easily introduce these advanced scans into existing standard MRI scans used for children. But first we need to be certain that the MRI biomarkers accurately show how treatments are working.

Dr Yann aims to show that advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can identify the most aggressive and high-risk forms of neuroblastoma, as well as predicting or monitoring how they respond to these new treatments.

Doing this will help us to decide how, and when, we can start using these new treatments to help children with neuroblastoma. It’ll also reduce the need for invasive procedures, making treatment less difficult. Ultimately, more children affected by neuroblastoma will survive.

Although this research is mainly looking at neuroblastoma, it will be helpful for any childhood solid tumours including brain tumours and rhabdomyosarcomas.

About the Research Team

Dr Yann Jamin has spent 10 years researching new ways of using MRI and looking at MRI biomarkers in cancer models. He works in the Preclinical Imaging Team, led by Dr Simon Robinson, in the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Imaging.

He’ll work closely with Dr Louis Chesler, who aims to develop new, targeted ways of treating high-risk neuroblastoma, and the ICR and Royal Marsden Paediatric Drug Development Unit, led by Professor Andrew Pearson. He’ll also work with pioneers of the MRI techniques that he hopes can treat children, including Dr Simon Walker-Samuel from University College London, Dr James O’Connor from the University of Manchester and Professor Ralph Sinkus from King’s College London.

“Five years ago, through collaborations with Dr Louis Chesler and Professor Andy Pearson, both world-leading experts in neuroblastoma, I was introduced to the fascinating biology of neuroblastoma but also the sad clinical reality for children with this disease. This is when I decided to dedicate my research to children with cancer. This is exactly what the Paul O’Gorman post-doctoral research fellowship will enable me to do.” Dr Yann Jamin

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