Remarkable progress has been made in pediatric cancer over the past two decades. More than 75 percent of children diagnosed with cancer will be long-term survivors. But treatments that help children survive – like chemotherapy and radiation – wreak havoc on their bodies years later.
The complications of cancer treatment will start to set in after about 20 years, and lead to accelerated aging. So young adults, in their 30s and 40s, are facing the risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic illness and premature death as a result of the treatment they had as a child.
That’s why clinical trials, and the development of new, safer drugs are extremely important for pediatric patients.
During the Buffalo Cancer Moonshot Summit, Roswell Park joined a national conversation on how to increase research efforts for pediatric cancer and accelerate the pace for a cure.
What are the obstacles in finding cures for pediatric cancer?
It is important that more attention be directed towards improving the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) budget. Funding cuts to government agencies, like the NCI, hinder research progress and delay clinical trial development. Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of the pediatric research grants submitted to the National Cancer Institute get funded. It's just so disheartening that the majority of really excellent applications can’t be funded because there’s just not enough support for those grants.
How will the Cancer Moonshot initiative help?
I do believe any funding and national attention will help to advance our efforts. A majority of the Cancer Moonshot initiative is focused on the use of precision medicine and genomic testing. This is something that we are very excited to be able to offer here at Roswell Park. Our OmniSeq testing platform is one of the sequencing platforms being considered for the National Pediatric MATCH Clinical Trial, which identifies mutations in childhood cancers and links them to targeted agents. We’re really on the cutting-edge of this, and I think the Cancer Moonshot initiative is going to elevate the importance of these national research efforts.
But there is still a lot to be done. We need more funding for cancer survivorship initiatives. Pediatric patients really do have significant needs in the long-term, and it’s important that we really look at the whole picture and make sure that our patients are not only surviving, but that their health is intact throughout their life.