Stella Davies, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., M.R.C.P.
I have been a pediatric oncologist for over 30 years and I have had to tell a lot of parents that their beloved child has cancer. Every parent asks the question "why my child", and every parent asks "what did I do wrong" - as parents we all feel guilty when something bad happens to our child. I have never had a good answer for these questions, and although I reassure parents that they did nothing wrong, I want to answer that key question of why and when did it happen. For over 30 years I have looked after hundreds of children with cancer and I have seen survival rates improve markedly, but still we cannot cure all the children. I remember the children who are cured with joy and pride, but I carry in my heart the children who are lost. We honor the children who are lost with research, so that we can do better for the children who come after them -- and that work is not complete until all of these children can be cured.
When a child gets a cancer like leukemia, the first question parents ask is "Why?" Generally we have no answer for that question because we can’t look back in time and see what was happening before we knew the child was sick. Leukemia happening in a very young baby is unusual and especially hard to explain. Recently we were given the gift of umbilical cord blood that had been stored by the parents of a 2 year old with a kind of blood cancer called monosomy 7. We were able to study the cord blood and show for the first time that the cancer had stated before the baby was born.
In this study, we will examine the rest of the stored cord blood and additional samples containing monosomy 7 to define the kind of blood cells that have become abnormal. We will also look at samples that we have collected serially to find out how other genetic changes contribute to make monosomy 7 into a cancer that is very hard to treat.
The objectives of this study are:
- To identify the kind of blood cell that contains the genetic abnormality monosomy 7.
- Test other genes in these cells to see if they are abnormal, too.
We hope that what we learn in this study will help us find better treatments for children with monosomy 7. If the monosomy 7 occurs in a stem cell we will know that this can only be cured with bone marrow transplant. Abnormalities in other genes will allow us to pick the best kind of chemotherapy that will allow us to treat the children more effectively.
Why is this important?
This project is designed to figure out what causes leukemia in children and how best to treat it. When we understand better when the leukemia starts, and in which kind of cell, we can start to address what the cause is, and figure out how to prevent leukemia. Moreover, knowing more about what is going on inside the leukemia cells will help us pick the best treatments for these children. Older people also get leukemia that has the genetic abnormality monosomy 7, so this information will benefit them as well.
Who will benefit?
This project will mainly benefit children, but it might benefit older patients too.