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Three award winners at ICCBH

Emma Verwaaijen, Demi de Winter and Jenneke van Atteveld, PhD students from the Van den Heuvel-Eibrink group, have all won an honorable prize for their scientific research at the International Conference on Children's Bone Health (ICCBH) in Dublin.

Doctors and researchers from the Princess Máxima Centre visit numerous conferences every year. At these meetings, new research results are presented and colleagues exchange knowledge and experience about various aspects of childhood cancer. As an incentive, awards are also presented at these conferences. At the tenth edition of the International Conference on Children's Bone Health (ICCBH), three researchers received awards. Prof. dr. Marry van den Heuvel-Eibrink: 'I am extremely proud of this recognition by our colleagues at this worldwide conference. In addition to the extra attention we receive for our research, these awards are a great opportunity for the researchers to establish their names in the research field.'

New, accurate screening method recognizes muscle weakness

Emma Verwaaijen is a pediatric physiotherapist-epidemiologist and researcher and presented her research during ICCBH on the use of a screening method for muscle weakness in children with blood cancer. For this she used a scientific poster for which she won the prize of best poster presentation.

Verwaaijen explains the importance of her research: 'Muscle weakness is a limiting symptom that occurs during treatment in some children with blood cancer, such as leukemia. It is important that it is recognized in time, because then we can quickly start paediatric physiotherapy in the form of exercise advice and muscle training. To diagnose muscle weakness in a simple and non-straining way, we have made an accurate version of a screening instrument for muscle weakness from the care of the elderly, SARC-F: the PED-SARC-F. In my follow-up research, I want to further improve the PED-SARC-F and investigate its usability within the areas of solid and brain tumors. In this way, the PED-SARC-F should eventually become widely applicable in pediatric oncology.'

More insight into risk and occurrence of reduced bone density and bone fractures

Demi de Winter is a medical researcher and presented her research into the risk and causal factors, also known as determinants, of reduced bone density and bone fractures. Together with Jenneke van Atteveld, she examined the data of 2.003 children who have recovered from cancer. For this research, de Winter won the ICCBH New Investigator Award.

De Winter says: ‘This research is part of the national LATER study. It has been shown that when a child is cured of cancer, later in life there is a greater chance of health problems than in peers. Many of these problems are treatable, especially if they are caught in time. This is why 'survivors' visit the LATER clinic and why the LATER study was set up.

In this study, we showed that survivors have a significantly increased risk of developing bone fractures. Reduced bone density, particularly low bone density of the lumbar spine, was found to be linked to this. Therefore, it is very important to closely monitor the bone density of survivors at increased risk. In addition, we have found several risk factors that influence the development of reduced bone density and fractures , such as hormonal and vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies. We can supplement these deficiencies, possibly reducing long-term damage in the future.’

Better recognition and more insight into vulnerability and muscle weakness in survivors

Jenneke van Atteveld is a medical researcher and, like Demi de Winter, conducted part of the LATER study. She delved into the possible increased risk of age-related symptoms of vulnerability, also known as frailty, and muscle weakness, also known as sarcopenia. Van Atteveld presented the results of this research in Dublin, for which she received an ICCBH New Investigator Award.

Van Atteveld explains more about her research: 'The two age-related symptoms studied have a major impact on quality of life. We have a strong suspicion that survivors are at increased risk. However, the evidence and knowledge about the extent to which this occurs is limited. Examination of data from 2.003 survivors showed that (pre)vulnerability and muscle weakness occur more than 30 years earlier than in the general population. We also found risk factors for this, such as gender, type of treatment and deficiencies of specific hormones and vitamins. These new insights offer leads for follow-up research into the prevention of these late effects as early as during the treatment you receive as a child. Thanks to this research, we can also identify people who are at a higher risk more quickly and intervene earlier by, for example, supplementing specific hormone and vitamin deficiencies.’