Archer's story

Archer's story

Chemotherapy with fewer side effects is urgently needed for kids with cancer.

Claire Bermingham is relieved that The Kids’ Cancer Project is putting children first when it comes to scientific discovery for kinder, more effective cancer treatments.

The Lennox Head mum of two is witnessing the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on her son Archer, who was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2019, a week after his third birthday.

“Within 24-hours of diagnosis, Archer started chemotherapy with a drug called vincristine,” she says. “We were in survival mode – our only focus was to ensure our baby boy was cancer free, and naturally you do that at any cost.”

 

“But it was such a catch-22. We knew the drug was saving his life, but at the same time we could see all the damage it was doing in the process,” says Claire.

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Vincristine is one of the most important chemotherapy drugs used to treat a range of paediatric cancers including acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, sarcoma, medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma.

However, one of its major side effects is vincristine-induced neuropathy, which not only significantly reduces patients’ quality of life, but can also necessitate dose reduction or discontinuation of treatment, putting them at risk of succumbing to their cancer.
 
Now 4-years-old, Archer experiences peripheral neuropathy, foot drag, headaches, jaw pain and occasional raspy voice – side effects that doctors estimate could last seven years post-treatment.

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“It’s confronting to see other kids at his age and see how much he is impacted by the effects of,” says Claire. “He can’t take stairs, hold a pen, write his name, use scissors or do lots of other things children his age can do.”

 

“People think once treatment is over and the cancer is in remission, that it’s all over – that’s not the reality.”

Claire and husband Matt know they are the lucky ones as many children do not survive. And for these kids as well as those who do recover their message is clear, “Kids should be the priority for cancer treatment discovery.”

Right now, The Kids’ Cancer Project is funding a study at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience to uncover the molecular mechanisms of vincristine-induced neuropathy and to characterise the analgesic effects of existing anti-inflammatory treatments.


Read more: Developing treatments for vincristine-induced neuropathy


Owen Finegan, The Kids’ Cancer Project Chief Executive Officer, says the researchers’ choice to test known and approved treatments means relatively fast translation to clinical use.

“It means discoveries from this investigation will flow through to patients much more quickly than if the researchers were developing a completely new drug,” he says.

“This is research is likely to result in better treatment for kids with cancer, but it stands to reason it will also benefit adults who are prescribed vincristine,” says Finegan.

“It seems so unfair that kids should have to go through this,” says Claire. “We all want our children to grow, have kids of their own and futures without fear of long-term effects.”

 

“Nobody thinks this can happen to them until it does. We never thought it would happen to us, and here we are."

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