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Five research projects start thanks to KiKa

New treatments for children with a germ cell tumor, liver or brain stem cancer. But also a better quality of life for children who have been irradiated for a brain tumor and a vaccine that may prevent cancer for children with CMMR-D syndrome. These are the goals of five research projects that can start thanks to KiKa.
Each of the studies funded by KiKa contributes to achieving the mission of research hospital the Princess Máxima Center: To cure every child with cancer, with optimal quality of life.

Alternative to increase survival chances

In some children treated for a germ cell tumor, chemotherapy does not work well. Prof. Dr. Leendert Looijenga: 'Germ cells ensure the development of sperm cells in men and egg cells in women. The precursors of these cells can develop into malignant tumors, or cancer. My goal is to develop new treatments as an alternative for children and young adults in whom chemotherapy does not work well. In this new study, we will investigate certain DNA abnormalities of the cancer cells. In this way, I want to increase the chances of survival for patients with this specific type of cancer.'

Vaccine against cancer

Scientists at Radboudumc in Nijmegen and the Máxima Center are working together within this project to develop a vaccine specifically for children with CMMR-D syndrome. This syndrome causes an increased risk of childhood cancer. Dr. Marjolijn Jongmans, clinical geneticist and involved in the research from the Máxima hospital: 'In children with this syndrome, the system that repairs errors in the DNA is broken. This allows spontaneously arising errors in the DNA to accumulate, which causes the greatly increased risk of developing cancer. Because these tumors arise from a specific problem, they also have specific characteristics. We identified these in a previous study. In this follow-up project, we will now investigate whether we can train the immune system to recognize these features and attack them at a very early stage of the tumor. This vaccine could potentially be a breakthrough in preventing childhood cancer in this particular group of children in the future.'

Mini tumors to find new treatment

Liver cancer in children is a rare and aggressive form of cancer requiring intensive treatment. Research group leader Dr. Weng Chuan Peng, together with specialists from the Máxima Center, is therefore investigating cancer cells at the molecular level, using so-called single cell analysis. Miniature liver tumors grown in the laboratory are also being examined. This should provide important insights into "the biology" of the tumors. By bringing together all the knowledge and expertise within this project, the researchers hope to improve the survival chances of children with liver cancer by identifying different types of cancer and linking specific treatments to them.

Immunotherapy for brain stem cancer

Currently, there are no effective treatments for brain stem cancer, also called Diffuse Midline Glioma (DMG). Research group leader Dr. Anne Rios: ‘Researchers are exploring new approaches to tackle this challenging disease. One potential treatment involves using special immune cells called GD2-CAR T-cells to attack the tumor cells. To better understand and improve this treatment approach, we will use a new technology called BEHAV3D. It combines advanced imaging and genetic analysis techniques to study how the T-cell therapies work and find ways to make them more effective. In this project, we use mini-tumors grown in the laboratory from tissue from children treated at the Máxima Center. With these, we are testing different GD2-CAR T-cells but also newly designed T-cell therapies and see how they respond. Ultimately, our goal is to validate new T-cell treatments for DMG and improve their efficacy. 

Preventing damage from radiation

The research led by Dr. Hanneke van Santen, pediatric endocrinologist and researcher, focuses on the effects of radiation on an important hormone-regulating area of the brain: the hypothalamus. Van Santen: 'If the hypothalamus is damaged, a child develops not only hormonal disorders but also non-hormonal disorders, such as dysregulation of body temperature, day-night rhythms and energy balance. But possibly also change in so-called neuro-cognitive traits such as behavior. We therefore want to examine children who have been irradiated for a brain tumor in the past and find out what possible late effects they experience. By then establishing links to the radiation, we can hopefully arrive at more refined radiation treatments resulting in a better quality of life for these children.'

KiKa is awarding the researchers a total of nearly €3 million for these five projects. KiKa is an important partner of the Princess Máxima Center. KiKa supports pediatric cancer research at the Máxima through core funding and has already made numerous research projects possible.