The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has welcomed a $35 million election pledge by the Andrews Labor Government to fund Stage 2 of the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium (VPCC) that aims to improve childhood cancer survival rates. 

The funding, the biggest investment of its kind in Victoria, was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews, together with Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford, at the Melbourne Children’s Campus. The consortium also received an additional $10 million from the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF), taking the total pledge to $45 million.

Over five years, the investment will help save lives by developing cancer therapies through research and clinical trial programs for the youngest cancer sufferers. It will also help survivors manage their long-term health, supporting them to lead long and fulfilling lives.

At least 750 Australian children are diagnosed with cancer each year, and almost half of these patients are under five. The most common types of childhood cancer are leukaemias (cancers that affect the formation of white blood cells) which affect around 30 per cent of children, followed by tumours of the central nervous system (in the brain and spinal cord) and lymphomas (cancers that begin in the lymph glands).

Established through a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant in 2021, the VPCC brings together nine leaders in childhood cancer research, including CCF, Murdoch Children’s, Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash Children’s Hospital, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, The Royal Children’s Hospital, the University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

By uniting these world-class hospitals, universities and research institutes, the consortium enables a state-wide, multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to tackling childhood cancers and delivering the best possible outcomes.  

The VPCC aims to develop and advance new and more precise treatments for childhood cancer, increase participation of children with cancer in Victorian clinical trials, improve survivorship and long-term health of those undergoing cancer treatment and leverage the diverse expertise of researchers and clinicians to translate paediatric cancer research from bench to bedside. 

MCRI news funding cancer researchPremier Andrews said, “No one, least of all a child, should have to face a challenge as big as cancer – but this is a sad reality for many Victorian families.

“Victoria has some of the best and brightest minds working together to fight childhood cancer. We’ll continue to invest in medical research and treatments to support cancer patients young and old.” 

Professor David Eisenstat, VPCC Head of Clinical Innovation, Cancer flagship Lead and Group Leader of Neuro-oncology at Murdoch Children’s, said the funding would help develop new tests.

“The significant problem has been patients who develop long-term effects of cancer treatment, including heart toxicity, hearing loss, bone marrow suppression, cognitive impairment and secondary cancers,” he said.

 “We need to develop new tests to determine which children will be at greater risk of these unacceptable toxicities and identify alternative effective treatments to avoid these side effects, but at the same time not to reduce the effectiveness of our therapies.”

Murdoch Children’s Associate Professor Rachel Conyers will oversee a pharmacogenomics program (looking at how genes affect a person's response to drug) through the consortium which is identifying medication-related adverse effects.

Her research will explore how childhood cancer survivors’ genetic make-up can influence how they respond to medications and how treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation contribute to unacceptable toxicities in cancer survivors, including heart failure, infertility, neuro-cognitive, bone health, liver and lung toxicity. 

MCRI news funding cancer research James BloorAssociate Professor Conyers said she hoped to improve the quality of life of young people with cancer by reducing adverse drug reactions and predicting and preventing lifelong medical complications after undergoing treatment.

Reflecting on the heartbreaking loss of her daughter Sinead during the announcement, Minister Pulford said, “My family has experienced the profound, deep sadness of losing a child to cancer – it’s something I never want any other family to go through.

“We are working with families and our world-class medical researchers to take on children’s cancer. This plan will make a real difference – leading to earlier diagnosis, better treatments and less heartbreak.”

Year seven student James Bloor (pictured , right) beat cancer when he was five, but it left him with permanent damage. He had Burkitt’s lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) and developed heart damage from his anthracycline chemotherapy drug. Five years after James’ cancer was treated, he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – damaged heart muscle. 

“He went from being a little boy who ran and played all day to a child who can’t do basic things without having to stop for a rest,” his mother, Toni, said. “He struggles to keep up with us, even when walking, and has to remind us to slow down.” 

James, now 13 years old, is part of a Murdoch Children’s study that aims to identify those at risk of heart damage following cancer treatment and is the largest of its kind in the world.

“We hope that one day a prevention or cure for heart damage from cancer treatment can be found so that other children can have better outcomes,” Toni said. “We want James to beat this one too.” 

Read James’ full story here

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