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New research possible thanks to Elfstedentriathlon

Three new studies start thanks to Maarten van der Weijden's Elfstedentriathlon. Researchers at the Princess Máxima Center are focusing on finding more effective treatments for children with high-risk neuroblastoma and a specific form of leukemia. They are also investigating how late effects in children cured of kidney cancer can be detected earlier.
Maarten van der Weijden, former Olympic swimming champion and cured of cancer, raised money for cancer research. Eleven researches were linked to a city of the Frisian Eleven Cities Tour. This is where he swam, walked or cycled to.

Maud (17) was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2022. Swimming, her favorite sport, was no longer possible. After a full-time stay of four months and a stem cell transplant, she received the flower bead exactly one year ago. Together with 'Team Maud', she swam in the Elfstedentriathlon. She says, 'I swim with Maarten to help him raise money for scientific research because I very much want ALL the children in the Máxima to get better in the future, just like me.'

More effective treatment of neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a tumor of the sympathetic nervous system that occurs mainly in young children. Every year, 25 children in the Netherlands receive this diagnosis. For children with a high-risk form, the prognosis is not good; less than half of them survive the disease. New treatments are therefore needed.

Prof. Dr. Max van Noesel, pediatric oncologist and researcher about the study starting thanks to the Van der Weijden Foundation and the Villa Joep Foundation: 'We are going to look for a new form of radioactive treatment. Here we replace the radioactive iodine currently used with the equally radioactive astatine. The alpha radiation of astatin is very harmful to tumor cells. At the same time, it has fewer side effects and the child no longer needs to be isolated. So this therapy has a lot of potential and is less stressful for child and parents.'

In the village of IJlst, linked to this research was radiochemist Dr. Alex Poot together with Leontine Heisen, founder of the Villa Joep Foundation, and Dagmar as mother of former neuroblastoma patient Youp. Poot: 'After an inspiration session on the importance of this research, Youp gave the stamp of IJlst to Maarten. We then sailed with him and saw up close his effort to swim through the Frisian waters with headwinds. It was impressive to see the dedication of everyone present to raise money for cancer research.'

Detection and earlier intervention for late effects kidney cancer

Every year, about 35 children in the Netherlands are diagnosed with a Wilms tumor. In general, the outlook is good, but treatment of this kidney cancer is intensive. Often, in addition to chemotherapy, a kidney is removed and radiation to the abdomen or lungs is required. This can lead to adverse late effects in children who have had kidney cancer.

The research, made possible thanks to Maarten van der Weijden and KiKa, focuses on finding simple ways to detect an increased risk of adverse effects and prevent worsening of symptoms. Prof. Dr. Marry van den Heuvel-Eibrink, pediatric oncologist and research group leader: 'As a first step, we will investigate whether the combination of treatments leads to long-term consequences. For this, we analyze data from children who were cured of cancer between 1963 and 2002. Then we will look at the data even more specifically and make comparisons with other treatment protocols around the world. In this way, we hope to find clues that can in turn be useful for children who are currently being treated.'

Present on behalf of the research team were Dr. Geert Janssens, radiotherapist, and junior researchers Alissa Groenendijk and Melissa Bolier in Bolsward. They too participated in an inspiration program where they told about their research. Bolier: 'The highlight of the program for me was four-year-old Iris. Despite undergoing an incredibly tough treatment process for her Wilms tumor, she danced on stage next to her mother. It was great to see her resilience.'

New therapy for specific leukemia

Every year, about 25 children in the Netherlands are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of blood cancer. Meanwhile, 70% of children survive their disease. But chemotherapy treatment can lead to long-term side effects. Therefore, smarter, less severe treatments are needed.

To this end, Prof. Dr. Olaf Heidenreich and his research team have developed fat globules with molecular scissors. These fat globules, also called nanoparticles, inhibit the production of a protein. Heidenreich says: 'This protein is only produced in leukemia cells, not in healthy cells. Without this protein, leukemia cells can no longer grow. So when this scissors is introduced into leukemia cells, leukemia is inhibited. In this new study, which we can start thanks to Maarten van der Weijden and KiKa, we optimize the composition of the therapy to make it suitable for children with leukemia.'

Like the other researchers, Heidenreich was impressed by the action: 'Arriving in Sloten, I was surprised and very impressed by the crowds, both volunteers and spectators. But also of the expectant waiting for Maarten's arrival and the cheering as he swam through Sloten. Almost as impressive was the number of swimmers who assisted Maarten during this leg. Never before have I seen anything like this at a charity event. I was most impressed by the dedication, endurance and perseverance Maarten showed as he swam by.

Importance for research

Heidenreich points out that the importance of Van der Weijden's 11-city triathlon cannot be overemphasized: 'It's not just the enormous amount of money it raises, but it also keeps the challenges and successes of our efforts as researchers to cure every child with cancer high on the public agenda. What he, his team of volunteers and the children and parents involved here are doing is simply amazing!'

With the Elfstedentriathlon, Maarten van der Weijden raised over €4.7 million for cancer research. He did not do this alone, 462 actions and 66 teams contributed to the more than 55,000 donations raised.

Photo: Maarten van der Weijden Foundation