Children with cancer in Scotland will be offered a breakthrough genetic test as part of a ground-breaking UK pilot.
Patients at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital and Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow will be among 400 children receiving the test over the next two years, which identifies key mutations in tumours.
Scientists hailed the move as an “exciting” step towards offering personalised treatment for young cancer patients.
The test is the first stage of a wider programme which aims to provide testing for all children with solid tumours and to direct them into clinical trials, according to the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London.
Study leader Louis Chesler, professor of paediatric cancer biology at the ICR and consultant at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, said: “Children deserve the very best modern treatments for cancer, but for too long there have been delays in applying the latest molecular techniques to personalise their treatment.
“A more comprehensive and structured approach to genetic testing to match children with cancer to specific targeted treatments could be an incredibly important step towards increasing survival.
“It’s exciting to be testing out this new approach to genetic testing in several hundred children with cancer, in what I hope will be a staging post towards routine use of genomic information for the care of all children with cancer in the UK.”
There are still major barriers to obtaining targeted cancer drugs for children as adult treatments are often too harsh, said Prof Chesler.
The test will be open to children under the age of 14 with solid tumours, rather than blood cancers such as leukaemia which normally respond better to treatment.
Samples will be sent to the Royal Marsden Hospital initially but there are plans to deliver the test directly from Scottish hospitals.
It is hoped that test results could help doctors make decisions about how patients can be most effectively treated.
The move could change the landscape of cancer treatment for children, said Karen Capel, of Surrey, whose five-year-old son Christopher died of a brain tumour in 2008.
Ms Capel, founder of the charity Christopher’s Smile, which funded the development of the test, said: “There is an urgent need to provide new treatments for children diagnosed with the most aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers.
“We believe this gene sequencing test is the key foundation stone in enabling personalised medicine for children. It will help to bring new treatments for children a step closer.”