Brain tumors are the deadliest form of cancer in children. Over the past two decades, research has led to improved treatments for many types of childhood cancer, but the prognosis for some children with brain tumors remains very poor.
Dr. Jasper van der Lugt is a pediatric oncologist specializing in brain tumors, with a focus on drug studies. He says: 'Clinical studies with new drugs are essential to make progress for children with brain tumors. But too often – certainly in Europe – you still see that research proposals are not specifically looking at brain tumors.'
Joining PNOC should bring about a significant change, according to Van der Lugt. 'PNOC, a network of primarily North American research institutes, has a large portfolio of clinical trials looking at new treatments and combination therapies for childhood brain tumors. For our children, this development means: earlier access to the latest therapies in a trial context. This is especially important for children with a poor prognosis or whose disease has come back after standard treatment.'
Researchers at the Máxima can also learn a lot about brain tumors from participating in PNOC. 'It is a strong, knowledgeable network, with international consultations every month,' Van der Lugt continues. 'We bring together the latest insights from around the world about childhood brain tumors.'
Increasing evidence suggests that the immune system plays a major role in a range of brain tumors. Immunotherapy is therefore set to become part of future treatments. Within PNOC, for example, a number of research institutes are much more advanced in the application of immunotherapy, such as CAR-T cells, for brain tumors. These forms of immunotherapy are already being used, especially for leukemia. Jasper van der Lugt: 'Often these kinds of new treatments are first trialled in the United States before they become available in Europe. Now we can immediately join in with these studies at the Máxima.' Participation by the Máxima center is gradually being built up; not all studies from PNOC can immediately be offered in the Netherlands.
Van der Lugt emphasizes that these are experimental treatments. 'It's about research, so we have to be realistic. We can't offer children and their families any guarantees about the benefit of a new treatment. But with access to the studies within PNOC, we ensure that we can offer new developments to children and parents as quickly as possible.'