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Australian charity for cancer alumni doctor make breakthrough in neuroblastoma

2 min read
Cure Cancer (3)

Blocking copper uptake in tumour cells may be the clue to boosting immune system.

Cure Cancer Alumni Doctor Orazio Vittorio and Prof. Maria Kavallaris have made a significant breakthrough in the treatment of childhood brain cancer.

Orazio and his team have discovered that by removing copper from the blood you can destroy some of the deadliest cancers that are resistant to immunotherapy.

Neuroblastoma accounts for 15% of total childhood cancer deaths and sadly Glioblastoma has the worst survival rate of all cancers, with only 5% of children surviving 5 years past their diagnosis.

While immunotherapy, a treatment that works through a patient’s immune system to kill the cancers, has proven to be a breakthrough for many cancer patients, some cancers camouflage themselves from current immunotherapies.

Dr Orazio Vittorio and his team from Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney and UNSW Sydney published the findings in the prestigious Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

It is known that cancer cells such as brain cancer ‘feed’ on copper, often having up to six times the normal levels of the metal inside the tumour cells. Dr Vittorio and colleagues studied tumour samples from more than 90 patients with neuroblastoma and 90 patients with gliomas.

According to Dr Vittorio, these two cancers express PD-L1 as a way to hide from the immune system, explaining why these two cancers are so deadly.

By looking at the human biopsies the researchers found a correlation between high levels of copper and increased expression of PD-L1. The researchers then showed for the first time in trials that copper levels could control the expression of PD-L1 in cancer cells.

One of the patients on the trial is Luciano. Neuroblastoma claims more lives of children younger than five than any other cancer. Children like Luciano who was diagnosed at 14 months, endured three operations and eight rounds of chemotherapy.

“We are lucky because he responded well to treatment, but there were so many kids who have been lost. This research will help give hope to more families and children in the future,” Maria, Luciano’s mother said.

This collaborative study includes the Children’s Cancer Institute, UNSW Sydney, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the University of Bologna.

The work was supported by grants from Cure Cancer, Tour de Cure, and Ross Trust Foundation.

Nikki Kinloch, CEO of Cure Cancer added “We are delighted that the funding we provided has had a direct impact on the future treatment of childhood brain cancer.”



Pearl Dy is a community manager and journalist. She is passionate about business and development particularly involving not-for-profits, charity and social entrepreneurship.


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