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Treating childhood kidney cancer

Cambridge doctors are leading a new ground-breaking research project helping to improve diagnosis and monitoring of 'Wilms tumour' - a type of childhood kidney cancer.

The project -‘Validating circulating biomarkers of Wilms tumour’ (opens in a new tab)- is led by Professor Matthew Murray, a paediatric oncologist at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) and a researcher at the University of Cambridge.

His goal is to help doctors diagnose this cancer more quickly and accurately and know whether children are responding properly to treatment.

Professor Matthew Murray, paediatric oncologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital
Professor Matthew Murray, paediatric oncologist at CUH.

The research project, funded by Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) Special Named Funds Bethany’s Wish, (opens in a new tab) Daniel’s Rainbow Fund (opens in a new tab), Finlay’s Fund (opens in a new tab), Freddie’s Fight (opens in a new tab) and The Georgie B Fund, (opens in a new tab) will look for tiny molecules that can diagnose Wilms tumour and predict how a patient’s cancer will respond to treatment.

In order to develop a non-invasive test that can be used to diagnose and monitor children with Wilms tumour, Professor Murray’s team will look for tiny molecules, called biomarkers, in blood and urine samples from children with this disease.

If the biomarkers are only present when there is a Wilms tumour, then doctors could test for their presence in blood or urine samples to diagnose children faster.

We anticipate that it will also allow careful monitoring of the tumour’s response to chemotherapy and identify patients early on who might need a different treatment approach. This would improve survival outcomes for young cancer patients.

Professor Matthew Murray

Professor Matthew Murray said:

"At the moment, most children in Europe start chemotherapy treatment when doctors suspect that they have a Wilms tumour based on the typical clinical picture – including consideration of factors like the child’s age and scan findings.

"Whilst this assumption is correct in the majority of patients, this is only confirmed when the tumour is removed, which normally happens four to five weeks after starting chemotherapy.

"We believe that the test we are developing, which requires less than half a teaspoon of blood, will one day help to confirm that the child has Wilms tumour at the time of initial presentation."

Bethany and her mum Angela
Bethany and her mum Angela.

To have been able to fund research into the tumour that took away my little girl is truly an honour.

Angela Polanco

Bethany’s Wish was set up as an independent charity in 2013 before becoming a CCLG Special Named fund in 2017.

Its supporters have raised over £85,000 for Wilms tumour research in memory of seven-year-old Bethany Polanco, who passed away from the disease in 2012.

This study marks the fourth project Bethany’s Wish has helped to fund with CCLG.

Bethany’s mum, Angela, said:

“I'm overwhelmed, humbled and inspired to hear that Bethany's legacy is still able to live on”.

"Every step we can make into finding more about the disease and how to stop any more children suffering is so important.

"Funding high-quality research is the only way to save more lives."

The Cambridge researchers will also be comparing the different biomarkers, alongside with the patients’ history, to see whether any of these can tell doctors new information about patients, such as the risk group of the Wilms tumour.

It marks the first step towards validating the test in larger numbers of patients in Wilms tumour clinical trials, to make sure that it is suitable for use as standard clinical practice.

This project was funded by CCLG’s Special Named Funds (opens in a new tab), which enable families to raise money for research into specific types of childhood cancer, while honouring a child or young person affected by cancer by raising funds in their name.