By Dr. Matt Aldridge, University College London Hospitals
Neuroblastoma is an aggressive childhood cancer with 100 new cases a year in the UK. Peak age of incidence is 2-3 years. Most of these patients present with high-risk disease in whom 5 year survival is less than 40%. In patients who relapse after initial treatment, the prognosis is even poorer and is considered to be generally fatal. For these reasons, neuroblastoma patients tend to be well-represented in the media, with a number of recent high-profile cases aiding in the awareness of the disease.
University College London Hospitals (UCLH) is a tertiary referral centre for high-risk and relapsed patients, in which targeted radiotherapy using specific radioactive tracers may be used to treat widespread systemic disease. To achieve this, treatment is performed in one of two dedicated rooms located on the paediatric ward, with co-located rooms available for parents or other carers and comforters, to offer close support.
UCLH is one of only two centres in the UK to provide this treatment, and therefore we are considered a centre of excellence, with a reputation that extends internationally. We have a wide portfolio of research, with a leading role in forthcoming clinical trials using novel combinations of treatment regimes, within an international collaborative endeavour.
I am fortunate to receive support to perform research and develop this service from the J-A-C-K charity (Joining Against Cancer in Kids). Our story with JACK started when we provided treatment to a little boy called Jack, whose parents are detectives within the Metropolitan police. Jack’s PACK – Police Against Cancer in Kids – are the fundraising team of the ‘JACK Foundation, and every year take part in fund raising trips to New York.
In May of this year, I was delighted to join the team for part of their activities in New York. This was immediately following my attendance at the Advances in Neuroblastoma Research conference in San Francisco, where I demonstrated the imaging techniques used at UCLH to improve staging and treatment response assessments in this cohort of patients.
Following my journey across the states I joined up with the team in New York. The team – comprising of 85 officers from the Met and Essex police – had travelled with BA, following a police escorted trip into Heathrow Airport. My first encounter with a number of the officers was at a ‘Hero’s and Villains’ fancy dress party, singing Karoke into the early hours of the morning.
One of the fundraising activities was a half-marathon taking place in central park, with all officers dressed in police attire of helmet, uniform shirt and black running shorts. Having the opportunity to take part in this was an amazing, humbling and inspirational experience.
I was to return home, but a number of fundraising events continued, including a plane pull, in which the JACK team competed against teams of US law enforcement and the US military in timed ‘pulls’ to see who is the fastest at pulling an Airbus A320 a set distance.
Despite the events taking place on the same weekend as the Royal Wedding, I am delighted to say that the charity endeavour did receive primetime recognition from CBS New York.
Meanwhile, our work continues at UCLH – with the support of JACK – to undertake and develop experimental treatments for neuroblastoma, with the aim of delivering personalized, targeted and innovative therapies for these children. It is an interdisciplinary approach and is possible through collaborative contributions from a range of teams including Radiotherapy, Nuclear Medicine and ward staff.
I look forward to presenting the progress of our developments, and if you are compelled to donate to this charity, the link is provided below.