The Hospital Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona is a national and international reference center in the approach to all childhood pathologies. In particular, they are at the forefront in the research and treatment of childhood cancer. On the occasion of International Childhood Cancer Day, we have the collaboration of the hospital and the testimony of Dr. Jaume Mora, scientific director of the Oncology and Hematology Service of the Hospital.
Childhood cancer is very different from adult cancer. In the case of children this disease originates during the formation of organs and tissues, in the complex process of human development, and is not related to cellular aging in the same way as adult cancer. For this reason it is generically referred to as “developmental cancer”. The therapies and response to treatments are also very different, which is why children and adolescents suffering from any type of cancer must be treated by specialized pediatric oncology teams.
The Oncology-Hematology Service of the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona is a national reference center for the care of childhood cancer and an international reference for certain types of tumors. All types of pediatric cancer are treated, including the following: Neuroblastoma, Retinoblastoma, Musculoskeletal tumors (sarcomas), Brain stem gliomas, Histiocytosis, renal tumors, leukemias and bone marrow transplants. Among the hematological diseases we also treat rare diseases, such as hemoglobinopathies, congenital and acquired bone marrow failure and congenital and acquired neutropenia.
Application of innovative therapies
Each year the hospital treats about 300 new cases of childhood cancer, 70 of which are second opinions and relapses of patients arriving at the center. In order to respond to all oncological pathologies (which are considered rare diseases due to their low prevalence), innovative therapies are applied in those cases where it is possible.
Sant Joan de Déu has been a pioneering center in Europe in the application of intra-arterial chemotherapy to patients with retinoblastoma to prevent the loss of the eye. It was also the first center on the continent to use anti-GD2 immunotherapy for the treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma, which increases survival by 20%. But the center also works on more complex cases and has initiated an international clinical trial for patients with diffuse brain stem glioma, a cancer for which there is currently no cure.
The center works tirelessly to find a treatment for incurable tumors. It is one of the few European centers with an exclusive bank of pediatric tumors with great potential for research. They also carry out genetic sequencing of tumors and, systematically, of relapsed tumors. The aim is to better understand the disease in order to be able to apply personalized treatments to young patients.
The oncology research team is headed by Jaume Mora, Scientific Director of the Oncology and Hematology Service of the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu. Dr. Mora emphasizes the need for research to give more and better options for the future to small patients: “For 13 years our laboratory has been functioning, mostly, thanks to donations from families who have understood the importance of research to combat childhood cancer.”
Improving treatments and reducing sequelae: goals of the future SJD Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona.
In February 2017, a fundraising campaign was launched for the SJD Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona, which will begin construction this 2018. Among the objectives of this reference center for pediatric oncology in southern Europe is to attend 30% more patients (reaching 400 per year), apply personalized treatments based on research and reduce the sequelae currently left by treatments in children who survive the disease which, in many cases, are irreversible.
During the first four months of 2018, construction of the SJD Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona will begin to provide a response to pediatric oncology patients.
The space will have a total area of 8,400 square meters, 40 rooms, 30 day hospital boxes and 20 offices for outpatient consultations. The philosophy of care will continue to combine first class medical care with the humanization of spaces, that is, an adaptation of the environment so that children feel more at ease and do not perceive the hospital as something cold.
Currently, the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu offers patients and their families services to make their stay at the center more bearable: psychological care, games to entertain them during their stay (either during their admission or during their stay at the Day Hospital) and visits from hospital clowns or dog-assisted therapy, in cases where this contact is possible. The spaces have also been designed in the current hospital (and in the future SJD Pediatric Cancer Center) so that patients feel comfortable and can be accompanied by their families.
The aim, according to Dr. Jaume Mora, is to attend to children or adolescents from all the areas they require: “cancer is a very complex disease with physical, psychological, social and educational implications. Our experience is that we must attend to all these aspects during the treatment and management of the child with cancer. If we are able to attend to all of these during the process, we can turn that traumatic experience into a learning experience for the patient and the whole family.”