At DCG Giving, one of the most important aspects of our work is providing funding for research into pediatric cancers. It’s hard to overstate how critical the ongoing research of our Children’s Oncology Group partners is in the worldwide mission to cure all forms of childhood cancer.
After all, it’s rigorous research that leads to the development of new, potentially extremely effective treatments that will help kids beat cancer and get back to their normal lives with their schoolmates, friends, and family, with reduced side effects and odds of complications. Since cancers as a whole are the leading cause of death by disease in those under 18 years old, the more money for clinical trials is available, the better – America’s kids can’t wait.
Challenges in Childhood Cancer Research
Unfortunately, conducting scientific testing and working hard to find new treatments are not the only challenges to be overcome by pediatric cancer researchers. The reality is that the medical and economic environment doesn’t support this research as much as is needed.
Pediatric cancers are thankfully uncommon – about 4 in every 100,000 young people in the US are diagnosed with cancer in a year. However, for those kids who do have cancer, this means that resources can be limited depending on where they live, and less than 4% of the US federal government cancer research budget is devoted to childhood cancers.
This matters because on a structural level, the types of cancer that are most prevalent in children are different from those that adult patients are diagnosed with. For example, Wilms’ tumor is a cancer of the kidneys that is rarely ever seen in adults – while adults are certainly at risk for other types of kidney cancer, the exact cellular makeup of a tumor affects how it should be treated.
Although many of the most common cancers in children are highly responsive to treatment, current methods for fighting these cancers often have side effects that can make a child’s life particularly difficult, as kids have less developed autonomy and coping skills than most adults.
Not only that, but clinical trials on child patients are subject to greater regulations and restrictions than those on adults, because a child can’t personally consent to undergo risks. While these types of constraints are needed to protect children’s rights, it also means that any clinical trial on people younger than 18 that is able to go ahead must be extra productive and worthwhile to be considered a good use of funding.
Areas of Research on Childhood Cancers
Fortunately, a variety of different emerging and experimental treatments show great promise in curing more forms of childhood cancer, potentially even having an effect on rare and difficult types. Among these are immunotherapy and molecularly targeted therapy – and at DCG Giving, we’re proud to help fund some of the organizations that are leading the way in developing these revolutionary treatments.
Cancer immunotherapy is a next-generation treatment option that aims to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to suppress and destroy cancerous cells. Various methods of immunotherapy are currently available or being studied. These include so-called cancer vaccines, which activate antibodies to respond to antigens in tumors.
Also showing promise are T cell receptor T cell (TCR-T) therapies, which use protein complexes to allow the immune system to identify specific polypeptide fragments in cancerous tissue, and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) cell therapy, which takes T-type white blood cells from either the patient or a healthy donor, genetically modifies them, and then reintroduces them to the patient’s bloodstream as an adaptive, organic drug against cancer.
Immunotherapy is an exciting field of research because the human immune system is powerful and versatile: It needs to be in order to fight off the astounding array of pathogens that could potentially harm the body. Using immune responses as a weapon against cancers puts a great range of tools in the arsenal of medicine, which means that custom treatment aimed at rarer cancers is easier – including ones which are mostly seen in teenagers and children.
Molecularly targeted therapy is the current wave of drug-based treatment for cancer, which may someday supplant hormonal therapy and chemotherapy in many cases. Targeted therapy is so called because it employs pharmaceuticals that interact with specific molecules involved in carcinogenesis (the formation of cancerous cells) and the growth of tumors. Rather than killing all types of cells that divide rapidly – including healthy ones – as chemotherapy does, targeted therapy blocks cancer cells from receiving the compounds they need to proliferate.
Even monoclonal antibodies, which have become a familiar term due to their use in COVID-19 treatment, are potentially useful drugs in the field of molecularly targeted therapy. All in all, targeted therapy is valuable to oncologists, cancer researchers, and patients because it has many fewer of the deleterious side effects associated with chemotherapy and previous cancer drugs, which is especially valuable for the youngest people affected by cancer.
How the Children's Oncology Group (COG) is Making a Difference
DCG Giving’s partner organizations are all members of the Children’s Oncology Group, the largest single institution dedicated to childhood cancer research. At any given time, the pediatric cancer nonprofits that make up COG are running 100 or more clinical trials studying advanced treatment options including immunotherapy and molecularly targeted therapy. They’re also providing critical support to kids with cancer and their families during potentially the hardest time in all their lives. With your help, we can give COG member organizations the fuel they need to make the next breakthroughs in curing childhood cancers.