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Researching less toxic treatments for childhood cancer

More and more effective therapies against lymphoma, such as immunotherapy and personalized cell therapy, are emerging. But the downside is the toxicity of these treatments. As a result, serious side effects can occur. Lymphoma researchers play an important role in the Máxima strategy for better outcomes for children with cancer.

Pediatric oncologist and researcher Friederike Meyer-Wentrup and Ruben van Boxtel, biologist and genome researcher, are keen to combine their clinical and scientific expertise to reduce toxicity. 'Nowadays, more than 90% of children survive, so the tendency could easily be to focus research on other types of cancer for which the prognosis is even worse,’ explains Friederike. 'The point is that children with lymphoma pay a high price for their survival. The treatment is highly toxic. Short-term side effects-think severe pain or dangerous infections-are hard to handle, but the toxicity can extend well into adulthood. Heart problems can develop, fertility can decline, and secondary cancers are more common in adults who have survived.'


'Clinical experience shows that while treatments can be successful, there is much room for improvement in outcomes other than survival,' says Ruben van Boxtel. 'We can only do so by better understanding the biological mechanisms of the cancer itself. The greatest challenge we face is to make successful treatments less toxic, for example, by addressing the mechanisms in each individual cancer cell. One of the main conditions for this kind of innovation is to build a broad set of preclinical and clinical data, combined with a large collection of patient material. The more material we have, the better we will be able to distinguish different subgroups of children with lymphoma.'

Personalizing treatments

Friederike Meyer-Wentrup: 'If we understand the interaction between the child's immune cells and the tumor cells, it will become possible to enable the immune system to fight the tumor. We are at the forefront of starting studies with children that use blood and tumor samples to study the biology of the lymphoma. Ultimately, this will support doctors to personalize treatments as precisely as possible. Together with our colleagues in the immunology department at UMC Utrecht, we have succeeded in culturing Hodgkin cells. This will help us to better predict responses to treatments, develop targeted therapies and thus reduce toxicity.'  

Two-way traffic

At the Princess Máxima Center, research questions come directly from the clinic and research results reach the patient much more quickly. Van Boxtel: 'It's two-way traffic. In the end it's all about dedicated people who are willing to join forces to make a real leap forward in pediatric oncology.’

The month of June is all about new perspectives at the Princess Máxima Center. This means that in the coming weeks we will tell you all about the developments in our research hospital. In the Máxima Center, care providers and researchers work closely together to constantly improve treatments. Our mission: to cure every child with cancer, with optimal quality of life.