Engineering childhood cancer for precision medicine

Childhood Cancer

Lead Researcher: Maria Kavallaris

Institution: Children's Cancer Institute

Funding: $445,719

Funding Duration: 2023-2025


In Australia, about 300 children are diagnosed each year with solid tumour cancers, with the majority of cases made up of neuroblastoma and sarcoma. Neuroblastoma is an invasive, high-risk disease, and treatment is aggressive with chemotherapy, surgical resection and radiotherapy. Even with such an intensive response, the survival rate is still below 40-50%. The picture is even worse for children diagnosed with a sarcoma. These cancers occur from a population of cells arising from the bone or soft tissue. The survival rate of patients with metastatic sarcoma is below 20–30%. There is an urgent need for novel approaches to identify the right treatments for these high-risk cancers.

Precision medicine offers patients treatments linked to the specific characteristics of their tumour.  But current tumour testing programs can take longer than six months, limiting the benefits to patients. Professor Kavallaris and team’s approach aims to dramatically reduce the time taken to a 4-week time frame with direct benefits to patients from more rapid adoption of recommended treatments.

The Research

The research combines patient tumour samples, engineering that mimics the tumour environment, and 3D-bioprinting technology that Professor Kavallaris and team have developed to form cancer “tumours in a dish”. This will enable Professor Kavallaris and team to more rapidly identify the best treatment for patients diagnosed with high-risk cancers and avoid the use of ineffective and often toxic therapies.

The Impact

The success of this project has the potential to improve treatment choices and outcomes for high-risk patients enrolled in cancer precision medicine programs.  The findings of this project may be adapted, in the context of other cancers – in adults as well as children.

The support of Cancer Council is vital to fund research projects that will lead to new discoveries that ultimately improve outcomes for childhood and adult cancers.


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