By: Emma Russell
A ground-breaking trial exploring new treatments for child cancer is launching in New Zealand today, giving high hopes to families like that of 12 year-old Fynn Abbott who was diagnosed with a hard-to-detect type of cancer at the age of seven after several months of misdiagnosis.
Every week about three New Zealand children under 15 are diagnosed with cancer. Less than three years after being diagnosed, more than 20 per cent die.
This trial, named the Precision Paediatric Cancer Project (PPCP), aims to reduce those numbers.
The University of Auckland study, led by Dr Andy Wood, is focused on helping relapsing and hard-to-detect patients, like Fynn.
At the age of seven, after being misdiagnosed for five months, Fynn was diagnosed with medulloblastoma cancer that affects the brain.
He underwent surgery to remove the tumour but was left with a devastating brain injury, leaving him unable to move, blink or swallow.
He then underwent an intensive rehabilitation programme of physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy to learn to speak, eat, sit, stand and walk again.
Over 18 months, he had nine cycles of chemotherapy before it was confirmed he had no evidence of disease.
Unfortunately cancer returned in July last year but in a different form, still in the brain – Glioblastoma (GBM).
Fynn’s mother Sandra said it was a common risk from radiology to the brain, which was used to treat his first round of cancer.
“He had surgery and they removed most of it but couldn’t remove the rim of the tumour because that’s where it was controlling his speech.”
Now 12, Fynn manages his cancer with a cocktail of medication and natural supplements but his future remains uncertain, leaving the family on edge.
“He’s independent enough … he’s just started at an intermediate school and catches the bus but he battles, he has pro-balance, which means he falls over a lot, but eventually he will need more care.”
Sandra said this trial was so important and really exciting.
“Researchers in New Zealand have made some good strides with adult cancer but for a long time child cancer hasn’t had the attention it deserves.
“Children in New Zealand deserve to be looked after … at the moment with rare cancers like Fynn’s it’s difficult to diagnose and we’re given a blanket of general treatments but it’s unknown if they will work.”
Wood said the way the trial would work was with genetic samples that would be taken from the participants to identify specific mutations causing cancer.
“The research team will then discuss the information with surgeons from Auckland District Health Board, looking at other related research, before having further discussion with the families involved to see whether they would be up for proposed treatments.”
He said studies like this had been done overseas but this trial aimed to fill the gap in New Zealand and provide constant quality research across the whole nation.
“It’s really important to us that we cover all of New Zealand so we are looking for participants from all around the country.”
The study will be run over the next five years and Wood aimed to gather at least 25 participants each year.