Childhood cancer research gets $12M from Ottawa

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced $12 million in new federal funding for four Canadian research projects dedicated to improving cancer treatment for children.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is presented with a bouquet of daffodils in his office on April 3, to mark the Canadian Cancer Society's Daffodil Campaign. His government announced $12 million in funding for childhood cancer research on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Research dedicated to improving cancer treatment for children got a $12-million boost Wednesday from the Canadian government.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced support for four new research teams that are looking at ways to reduce the harmful effects of treatment.

The funding comes from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the federal government's health research agency, and will be spread over five years.

"Our goal is to improve the health and quality of life for children who survive cancer," Aglukkaq said in a news release.

An estimated 30,000 Canadians are childhood cancer survivors.

Researchers are trying to reduce the multiple, serious and sometimes deadly side-effects that pediatric patients can develop later in life as a result of their treatment. The adverse effects can include damage to the heart, kidneys, lungs, and central nervous system, and cause chronic health problems.

Two of the research projects are based at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, where Aglukkaq made the announcement. One project is based at the B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, and Montreal's Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre is also receiving a portion of the funding.

A research team at the Hospital for Sick Children, with a $1.9-million boost, is exploring how leukemia affects brain function and the factors that make some children more susceptible to attention deficit disorder as a result. Some research indicates that a mutation of the gene involved in metabolism of the vitamin folate is responsible for the effect, and the researchers will explore this and if other related genes are associated with ADD in child cancer patients.

Effects of chemotherapy to be studied

The other project at the Toronto hospital is receiving $2.8 million for the study of who is at greatest risk of developing heart disease as a result of chemotherapy. If those children can be identified, their cancer treatment can be modified or medications to protect their hearts may be prescribed.

In Vancouver, researchers will also try to identify children at risk of adverse side-effects of treatment, to give them pre-emptive therapies to minimize or avoid the side-effects. The $4.3-million project involves eight pediatric centres across the country.

The most frequent cancer in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and Montreal researchers will be tackling how to reduce the treatment side-effects that often show up years later. More than two-thirds of survivors of this cancer experience chronic health problems that can affect brain and heart function, increase the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, and cause bone morbidity.

An estimated 1, 310 Canadians under age 19 developed cancer last year, according to the 2011 Canadian Cancer Statistics.

The survival rate for children and youth diagnosed with the disease is 82 per cent. The high survival rate means there is a need to follow up with patients to mitigate the long-term effects of treatment.