As we come to the end of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we’re sharing some of the research we’ve funded which we hope will make a difference for children and young adults with sarcoma.
Understanding how to attack sarcoma
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone sarcoma, and it often affects children. But no new treatments have been developed for over 40 years, so more research is desperately needed. Irene Sechi, a PhD student working on osteosarcoma at the University of Oxford, is hoping to change that.
Cancers grow by making copies of their cells. They can do this very quickly, which means they often make mistakes. But this is good news – as when this happens, they become more vulnerable to treatment. This means the osteosarcoma cells are killed more easily than healthy cells. Under the supervision of cancer researcher Professor Vincenzo d’Angiolella, Irene will test these vulnerable osteosarcoma cells with different drugs to see which osteosarcoma cells are most sensitive and how they could be killed. In the long term, the team hope that they can use these findings to take any especially effective drugs into a clinical trial, which could help children and adults with osteosarcoma.
Irene has a particularly personal reason for researching osteosarcoma – she had it herself as a child.
“Being affected by sarcoma as a kid was a life changing experience. Kids should play, run and jump around instead of fighting against this disease,” she says. “Now, my ambition in the lab is to find new therapeutic strategies to beat sarcomas.”
Making treatments specific to each patient
Dr Katie Finegan at the University of Manchester is also aiming to develop a better treatment for children’s osteosarcoma. To help us get there, she and her colleagues are looking at the link between osteosarcoma and the cells of your immune system. This is because the types of immune cells each patient has can make a big difference to how well they respond to treatment. “Our research will do the first in-depth characterisation of the immune cells that are in an osteosarcoma patient’s tumour and blood,” says Katie. “We aim to identify a specific pattern of the immune cells of a patient that will direct the patient to the best possible treatment.”
By carrying out this work, in the future, we hope to see patients being matched up to the best treatment for them – just based on the type of immune cells they have. And as part of the project, Katie and her colleagues will test new drugs they have created on real patient cells in the laboratory – taking us one step closer to a new treatment. “Our drugs work in other cancer models by changing the immune cells to make them attack the tumour. Testing our drugs in osteosarcoma would provide the evidence needed to progress them toward use for osteosarcoma patients.”
Working out how to make immunotherapy better
Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment which uses a patient’s own immune system. It’s commonly used in adults, but in many cases, it doesn’t work for children with sarcoma. To fix the problem, you first need to understand why it’s happening, so Dr Carmela de Santo hopes to do just that. She will look at a type of immune cells which seems to be able to withstand the harmful environment around a cancer cell (known as the microenvironment). “Our goal is to take out these cells from existing samples of children’s sarcomas, and find out why they can adapt to the sarcoma microenvironment,” she explains.
Understanding how these cells work and respond to immunotherapy could be the first step to making the treatment work better. “These results will be fundamental for future work because they will help to design immune therapies specific for sarcoma patients,” Dr De Santo says.
Understanding why rhabdomyosarcoma can resist treatment
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children. But more treatments are needed for children who have a sarcoma that has spread, as the sarcoma can often resist the effects of the treatment. To help, Dr Zoe Walters and her colleagues at the University of Southampton have looked at specific types of rhabdomyosarcoma cells to understand why they are resistant to treatment. Through exploring the genetics of the cells, they have found some key differences in cells that are resistant.
As a result of their research, they can now take this one step further, testing drugs which might be more effective than standard treatments at killing these resistant cells. Overall, Zoe hopes that this research will get us one step closer to improving outcomes and quality of life for children with rhabdomyosarcoma.
Thanks to your support, we’ve invested over £5 million to support children and adults with sarcoma. Read more about these projects and others we’ve supported here.
Sarcoma diagnoses make up 10% of all cancers diagnosed in people under the age of 25, and sarcoma is the third most common cancer diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults. You can read more about subtypes and treatment of sarcoma in young people via our Sarcoma in Young People Hub.
You can also visit our Childhood Cancer Awareness Month page for the facts, treatment, and how you can get involved.
If you have questions or need someone to talk to, our friendly team of expert nurses are here to help on our Support Line.