International Childhood Cancer Day: Sant Joan de Déu keeps up the momentum of research

Childhood cancer develops when organs and tissues are forming, and cannot be prevented. It has a much lower incidence than adult cancer, one case for every 150 in adults. The responses to treatment and the therapies applied are different in childhood cancer, also called developmental cancer, so it is very important that it is treated and investigated by specialized teams in Pediatric Oncology.

On International Childhood Cancer Day we have the collaboration of the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu (SJD), an international reference center in research and treatment of childhood cancer.

Sant Joan de Déu as a benchmark in childhood cancer research

Sant Joan de Déu is a center specialized in maternal and child care. It is one of the most advanced hospitals and a national reference center for childhood cancer cases, as well as at the European level for certain tumors. In fact, 17% of the total number of patients treated in 2018 came from other areas of Spain. However, research funding is a difficulty, being minority tumors and different from those of adults. That is why more than 70% of the funding for research projects comes from family donations.

The main lines of research at Sant Joan de Déu focus on the following pathologies:

  • Neuroblastoma. This is an extracranial solid tumor that originates in the peripheral nervous system. Thanks to the research they have discovered genetic markers that allow predicting the aggressiveness of the tumor. In addition, the efficacy of certain drugs is being studied.
  • Diffuse brain stem glioma (DIPG). It is a currently incurable brain tumor. The Sant Joan de Déu research team has created an animal model and initiated the first clinical trial worldwide in the form of a vaccine.
  • Ewing’s sarcoma. This is a tumor that affects the bones and soft tissues. Researchers are looking for new therapeutic targets to treat metastatic Ewing sarcomas more successfully.
  • Leukemia. Leukemia is a cancer originating in the precursor cells of the blood, and is the most common cancer in the pediatric population. SJD’s research team has participated in clinical trials of therapies for patients with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia with no treatment option.
  • Retinoblastoma. This is a tumor that generally appears when the retina is developing, during the first months of life. A clinical trial is being carried out with an oncolytic virus to treat cases that do not respond to treatment.
  • Histiocytosis. It occurs when cells with immune function attack tissues and organs, causing damage. Some histiocytiosis causes a genetic alteration in the BRAF pathway, and inhibitor treatments are being studied.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma. This is a tumor that affects the soft tissues. New therapies and effective treatments are being developed to combat its more aggressive forms, as well as relapses.
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Sant Joan de Déu’s figures and results

Sant Joan de Déu receives around 300 new cases of childhood cancer each year, making it one of the hospitals in Europe that receives the most cases. Of these, 215 are usually new cases and 70 are second opinions and relapses.

The results are encouraging:

Oncology research model at Sant Joan de Déu.

Sant Joan de Déu is a leader in childhood cancer research. Their goal is to improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients, and they work tirelessly to find a treatment for incurable tumors.

The research model is as follows:

  • It is a translational model, oriented to the needs of patients and families, with the aim of having a clinical application.
  • It is a different type of oncological research, since they are developmental or growth tumors, totally different from those of adults. This entails certain funding difficulties, which is why families and civil society are very involved in fundraising for new lines of research. It also requires highly specialized human and technological teams in pediatric oncology.

The future Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona, already under construction, will serve not only to care for national and international patients, but also to maintain and grow research in childhood cancer.