UBC-CFRI team receives funding to predict adverse effects of childhood cancer treatments

Kirk Schultz

A team led by Kirk Schultz, a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, has received $4.3 million from the Canadian government and six leading cancer organizations to explore how biomarkers can identify children and adolescents who are at risk of adverse effects of cancer treatments.

Identifying these high-risk children could lead to preemptive and timely therapies to minimize or eliminate these effects. Studies will focus on biomarkers associated with hearing loss, kidney failure, blood clotting problems, and a specific form of tissue rejection called chronic graft-versus host disease after hematopoietic transplantation. The research is being conducted at eight pediatric centers across Canada.

Dr. Schultz is a Senior Clinician Scientist and Head of the Childhood Cancer & Blood Research cluster at the Child and Family Research Institute.

The funding comes through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Garron Family Cancer Centre at Sick Kids, C17 Council, Canadian Cancer Society, Cancer Research Society, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario.

“Our Government is committed to ensuring that childhood cancer patients receive the most effective and appropriate treatments available to them,” said Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq. “Our goal is to improve the health and quality of life for children who survive cancer.”

According to the Canadian Cancer Statistics 2011, 6,550 children up to 19 years old were diagnosed with cancer between 2003 and 2007. Although the numbers are small relative to adult cancer, 82% of these children now survive their disease, and it is estimated that more than 30,000 Canadians are now childhood cancer survivors.

Although childhood cancer is a relatively rare disease and the outcomes have improved dramatically in recent years, a large percentage of pediatric cancer patients develop multiple, serious, and sometimes fatal, health effects as a result of their cancer treatments. The list of these long-term adverse effects, or “late effects”, is long and includes damage to the central nervous system, senses and major organs, such as heart, kidneys and lungs.

Frequently these late effects are diagnosed and treated by physicians working in the adult domain, often with no prior knowledge of the previous cancer treatments. In order to prevent or mitigate the subsequent late effects, a dialogue is needed between pediatric oncologists and the clinicians in other disciplines, such as cardiology, neurology, endocrinology and oncology (for second cancers), responsible for treating survivors who experience the late effects, sometimes decades after the primary treatments.