New Cures for Childhood Cancer

Brain cancers, relapsed leukemias and cancers that start in the bone or soft tissue account for 60-70% of all childhood cancers. They are also the highest cause of death for young people facing a cancer battle.

Experts from the Alberta Children’s Hospital, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Charbonneau Cancer Institute at the University of Calgary are joining forces to tackle these deadly cancers and find desperately needed new cures for these children and teens.

Building on proven and diverse research strengths in Calgary, the Alberta Cellular Therapy and Immune Oncology Initiative (ACTION) team will focus on developing next-generation cellular immunotherapies – a new form of cancer treatment that harnesses a child’s own immune system to tackle their particular cancer.

ACTION Lead, Dr. Doug Mahoney, explains it this way: “In its simplest form, immunotherapy involves taking a sample of the patient’s cancer and isolating a specific target at which to point an immune response. At the same time, we take the patient’s blood and reprogram their immune cells to attack that specific target. When that “super-powered” blood is infused back into the patient, our hope is that it will seek and destroy their personal cancer.”

Since this approach uses the body’s own resources, the toxic effects of chemotherapy are reduced and a cure can often be realized without the long-term and often devastating impact of current treatments.

Personalized, engineered immunotherapy is showing significant promise and the first form of this treatment, known as CAR-T, is now being offered at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The vision of ACTION is to create an ecosystem of discovery, innovation and translation that will accelerate the development of more novel cellular immunotherapies – in addition to CAR-T – and enable their evaluation in future clinical trials.

This unique research initiative will find new answers and offer new hope to children and families in our province, our country and around the world.