Montreal Children's Hospital |  A blood or urine test to screen for childhood cancers

Montreal Children’s Hospital | A blood or urine test to screen for childhood cancers

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A simple blood or urine test could soon make it possible to identify certain cancers in children, estimates the Montreal Children’s Hospital, which is starting the first pediatric research in Canada aimed at developing these liquid biopsies.


For Montreal researcher Janusk Rak, director of liquid biopsy research, this procedure brings “new perspectives in the treatment of childhood cancers,” he said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

This new method would be much less invasive than the one currently used which requires surgeons to perform a surgical biopsy by removing a small amount of tissue with a needle or, in some cases, removing the entire mass.

Liquid biopsies are indeed “virtually painless and risk-free”, argues Dr.r Rak. They can also be done repeatedly to make sure “the treatment is working and if not, switch immediately to another drug”.

The DD Nada Jabado, researcher in the Child Health and Human Development Program at the Research Institute of the MUHC and oncologist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, hopes that the first clinical studies will begin within two years.


PHOTO ROBERT SKINNER, THE PRESS

The DD Nada Jabado, researcher in the Child Health and Human Development Program at the Research Institute of the MUHC and oncologist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital

How it works

For several years, solid cancerous tumors, such as brain cancer and bone tumors, have been shown to leak various substances into the blood, such as cells, DNA, proteins and exosomes, which act as miniature replicas of cancer cells.

The Dr Rak discovered that the genes responsible for cancerous tumors are found in these exosomes. Researchers at the Montreal Children’s Hospital are therefore working to develop technologies to capture these exosomes, which would make it possible to identify which types of cancer are found in children.

“Only with a blood test, we could know the genetic material present in the cancerous tumor”, summarizes the DD Jabado.

The Dr Rak hopes this technology will help detect children earlier and increase their chances of survival. Indeed, solid cancers are the deadliest forms of pediatric cancers, with a mortality rate of 20 to 40 percent in children and adolescents, says the McGill University Health Center.

Few studies in children

Studies in adults have shown that liquid biopsies show promise for improving the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of solid tumors. “In lung cancers for example, liquid biopsies are done in clinical trials. We are doing it for breast cancer too, ”says the DD Jabado.

However, studies in children are rare. “But there are a lot of needs,” says the DD Jabado, who hopes “all children with cancer” can benefit from this technology soon.

To encourage research in the field, the Charles-Bruneau Foundation and the CIBC Foundation offered donations of $5 million and $1 million respectively to the McGill University Health Centre. The DD Jabado hopes these donations will encourage others to do the same.


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