Childhood cancer research projects awarded funding

Little girl with cancer playing with stuffed toys with a nurse in a hospital

A Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researcher has received funding for two projects that aim to improve the quality of life of young people with cancer by reducing adverse drug reactions and preventing lifelong medical conditions after undergoing treatment.

Associate Professor Rachel ConyersRachel-Conyers received a combined $600,000 from The Kids’ Cancer Project for her research projects, which will explore how childhood cancer survivors’ genetic make-up can influence how they respond to medications. Her work will also look at how treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation contribute to infertility risk in young patients.

Due to advances in cancer treatments, 85 per cent of children and adolescents with cancer now have a five-year survival rate and can live much longer. However, around 5 per cent of survivors will have lifelong chronic medical conditions.

Associate Professor Conyers’ first project aims to use pharmacogenetics, which explores how genes influence a person’s response to drugs, to make medications safer for survivors of childhood cancer. By determining how a patient handles a medication based on their genetics, she hopes to offer doctors and pharmacists guidance on medication to reduce adverse drug reactions and side effects.  

“Genetic tests can help decide what drugs and doses are right for these children, but despite robust international guidelines recommending gene screening in cancer, these tests are not being used enough,” she said. To address this, we will provide patients with pharmacogenetic testing, tools to help clinicians prescribe medications and information to help inform children and their carers.” 

Oncology treatments can also cause infertility in childhood cancer survivors, which causes significant distress and regret. To improve outcomes for children, Dr Conyers’ second project will use genetic screening to identify infertility risk and provide fertility preservation.

“We will examine 180 ovarian tissue samples previously collected from paediatric cancer patients to determine if they have a genetic predisposition to premature ovarian insufficiency (loss of normal reproductive ability) and a higher rate of ovarian failure by two years after therapy due to treatment,” she said.

Associate Professor Conyers said she hoped to develop a new way of identifying patients at risk of permanent infertility and determine which children and adolescents needed fertility preservation before starting cancer treatments. This would allow accurate counselling about infertility risk and help children and families make better informed decisions. 

Watch Associate Professor Conyers and Associate Professor David Elliott discuss the side effects of cancer treatment on the heart and what we’re doing to prevent it in the video below.


These projects are funded by The Kids Cancer Project.