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In the News: Cancer Moonshot, Why Children Get Cancer, and a Push for Vaccination
Welcome back to our weekly roundup of pediatric research news from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This week, as many students head back to school, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is strengthening its advocacy to protect individual and public health by calling for an end to nonmedical exemptions from school vaccine requirements. This was also a big week for cancer research, as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) accepted and published the recommendations of its Blue Ribbon Panel for how to achieve the Cancer Moonshot initiative’s goals of making 10 years of progress against cancer in the next five years. These stories and more follow below.
Cancer Moonshot Lays Out Scientific Roadmap
Accelerating progress on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer to make a decade of progress in the next five years is no small goal; no wonder the initiative to do so is called a “moonshot.” This week, the NCI announced the scientific roadmap for how to achieve the Cancer Moonshot initiative’s goals, the outcome of a months-long planning process by the initiative’s Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP). The BRP presented its recommendations of 10 scientific initiatives and a number of specific special projects to NCI’s National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB). The NCAB accepted the proposal with revisions after discussion. The initiatives are now published, along with the full BRP report, on the NCI website.
The 10 initiatives span a wide range of approaches to preventing, detecting, and treating cancer, as well as developing a better basic understanding of cancer. All of these ideas reflect areas of science that BRP panel members believe are poised to make major progress in the next few years if supported logistically and financially. One of the 10 initiatives focuses specifically on the need to intensify research on the major drivers of childhood cancers. P
resident Obama has requested $755 million in federal funding for the Cancer Moonshot in the next fiscal year that has not yet been approved. CHOP pediatric oncologist Peter Adamson, MD, issued a motion, backed by several other members of the NCAB, to urge Congress to fund the Cancer Moonshot, according to GenomeWeb.
“I don't think this board should be timid in recommending the need for appropriations,” said Dr. Adamson, who is a member of both the NCAB and the BRP.
Why Do Kids Get Cancer?
The answer is complicated, according to CHOP pediatric oncologist John Maris, MD, who was posed this question for a St. Baldrick’s Foundation blog post published this week. In his explanations, Dr. Maris breaks down why children’s cancers are caused by genetic, rather than environmental factors — but usually not inherited genetic mutations that have been passed down through the family. And research to understand the genetic mistakes that drive childhood cancers is key to learning about each cancer’s weaknesses.
“It’s the fundamental reason why the disease occurred in the first place,” Dr. Maris said. “And if we can learn how to take advantage of the mutation in terms of a therapy, it’s often a very effective therapy.”
Dr. Maris, an internationally prominent expert on neuroblastoma, co-leads the SU2C-St. Baldrick’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Dream Team. Read more of his explanation of why children get cancer on the St. Baldrick’s blog.
AAP Strengthens Pro-Vaccination Stance
Thanks to vaccines, numerous devastating diseases such as measles, mumps, and bacterial meningitis have become so rare that most children and adults into middle age have rarely or never encountered them. While vaccination rates overall remain high, that lack of familiarity may be a contributing factor in the rise of vaccine hesitancy among parents — the growing tendency to refuse or request to delay medically recommended vaccines for their children.
Last week, the AAP issued its strongest recommendations yet about what parents should do, and how pediatricians can respond, in the context of some parents’ vaccine fears and hesitations. The organization advocated for the elimination of nonmedical exemptions from vaccine requirements for school attendance, on the grounds of the ethical importance, individual benefits, and public health benefits of vaccination.
The AAP’s new guidelines also allow pediatricians to consider dismissing families from their care as a last resort if families continue to refuse vaccines after repeated efforts at counseling and encouragement. “The AAP’s recent policy statements send a strong message to the medical community and the public about the need to make vaccination a public health priority and to take the recommended vaccine schedule seriously in order to protect our communities. If followed, these recommendations could have a significant impact,” wrote Jennifer Gable, MPA, MBE, a policy associate in PolicyLab at CHOP. “Still, much more must be done to dispel the misplaced fear and complacency around vaccination, and we all have a role to play in making that happen.”
Research findings that refute some of the fear-based misperceptions about vaccines are among those efforts. For example, a story about the new AAP recommendations in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted research by CHOP’s Paul Offit, MD, which showed that infants are unlikely to have their immune system “overwhelmed” by the antigens in vaccines. Dr. Offit’s research review in 2002 showed that infants are exposed to so many substances that they could theoretically be exposed to 10,000 vaccines at once before any such concern about being overwhelmed.
In case you missed it earlier this week on Cornerstone, we brought you the story of an early career scientist who was selected as the first ever recipient of the EVAN Foundation Neuroblastoma Research Scholar program.
Last week’s In the News post covered a $1 million gift for autism research at CHOP, airplane travel safety recommendations for young children, genetics of Type 2 diabetes, and clinical guidelines for recognizing thyroid disease in children.
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