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New childhood cancer research with support from KWF

Seven new studies in the Princess Máxima Center can get started thanks to funding from KWF, the Dutch Cancer Society. The funded projects range from technology to improve the quality of life of children with cancer, to lab research to develop better treatments.

Smartwatch for hormone balance after brain tumor

Children with a tumor in the hypothalamus, the hormone center in the brain, often have a very good chance of survival. Yet they can have a poor quality of life after treatment, because of a hormone imbalance. Faulty regulation of hunger and thirst, temperature and day-night rhythm often lead to obesity and chronic fatigue. Dr. Hanneke van Santen, in collaboration with TU/e and Corsano Health, aims to develop a smartwatch that can work as a kind of 'external hypothalamus'. The device works 24/7 to monitor body temperature, stress, sleep, daily activity, and in the future also sodium levels. For example, the watch can help to detect hormone imbalances more quickly, so that the child and parent can restore it. This could improve the quality of life of children with a tumor in the hypothalamus.

New drug for high-risk neuroblastoma

Prof. dr. Jan Molenaar, dr. Selma Eising and Stijn Couwenbergh receive funding for their research into a new treatment for high-risk neuroblastoma. The Molenaar group is looking at a new drug made up of two distinct parts, a so-called PROTAC. One part homes in on particular proteins in cancer cells that contribute to overactive cell growth. The other part of the drug breaks down those proteins. The specific abemaciclib-cerebron combination worked well on neuroblastoma cells in the lab in the first studies into its effect. The abemaciclib-cerebron PROTAC will be developed further in the new study, and the team will also make new PROTACs.

Daily functioning

Dr. Marita Partanen's research aims to improve the quality of life of children with a brain tumor. Half of survivors experience late effects on cognitive and social-emotional functioning or sleep and fatigue. In the new study, the multi-disciplinary team of Marita Partanen, Femke Aarsen, Rachèl Kemps, Martha Grootenhuis, Jeanine Voorman, and Raphaele van Listenburg will investigate the effect of a program of (neuro)psychological treatments, aimed at individual children and their families. She hopes to improve the daily functioning, for example at school and at home or with friends, of children with a brain tumor.

Hologram for better operations

When operating on a kidney tumor, surgeons try to remove as much tumor tissue as possible without removing too much healthy tissue. Prof. dr. Marc Wijnen has developed a system that projects a hologram onto the kidney during surgery. This allows the surgeon to see a 3D model of the tumor and the blood vessels in the kidney, which cannot be seen with the naked eye. In the new study, Marc Wijnen will test the so-called HoloLens in patients for the first time. First to determine the accuracy of this technology, and then to see if the HoloLens can help save more healthy tissue. In the future, this research may lead to a better outcome and fewer late effects of surgery for children with a kidney tumour.

Improved treatment for Ikaros leukemia

Some children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia have a worse prognosis, for example when the leukemia has a change in the Ikaros gene. Dr. Frank van Leeuwen previously discovered that a particular leukemia drug, cytarabine, works less well in these children. In a new study, he will investigate why Ikaros leukemia is less sensitive to this drug. He will also look for drug combinations that could increase the effect of cytarabine in Ikaros leukemia. He expects these drug combinations could also be more effective in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.

App to monitor quality of life at home

Even when children are at home, it is important to keep a close eye on their symptoms. With this aim, senior nursing researcher Aeltsje Brinksma will develop an E-health application. This is similar to the KLIK Pain Monitor app, but covers the various physical, emotional and social symptoms a child may experience. The new app can help provide parents and children with information about these symptoms and their treatment, and to connect with a healthcare professional more quickly if needed.

Crossing the blood-brain barrier

Because the brain is well protected against intruders, it is also difficult for medicines to enter it. Using focused soundwaves (Focused Ultrasound, FUS), the brain can temporarily be opened for drugs. Dr. Dannis van Vuurden will study the drugs, quantities and timing can be best brought into the brain. Working with UMC Utrecht and Erasmus MC, he will study this for children and adults diffuse midline glioma and glioblastoma, brain tumors for which there is currently no curative treatment. The most promising combinations will be studied further in a clinical trial.

The projects will start in the course of 2023. The support from KWF for the seven projects together amounts to more than €4.8 million.