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In 2015, the Monaco Scientific Centre began research into paediatric cancers. Its work has resulted in the launch of a first clinical trial in 2023.

Around the world, more than 175,000 children and young adults are diagnosed with cancer, and nearly 96,000 of them die from a form of paediatric cancer. Despite the progress that has been made, cancer remains the second most common cause of mortality among under 15s, after accidents. The Monaco Scientific Centre therefore decided to conduct research into these rare diseases – childhood cancers account for 1–2% of all cancers – which are completely different from adult cancers. In 2015, a partnership agreement was reached between the Centre and the Fondation Flavien, the leading charity for childhood cancers and rare diseases in the Principality of Monaco.

Although they have their own unique characteristics, particularly in terms of the mechanisms by which they occur, they are treated in the same way as adult cancers, with varying results and significant long-term side effects. Research into new treatments is vital to improve the prognosis for paediatric cancers and reduce side effects,” explains Dr Vincent Picco, who leads the Stem Cells and Brain Tumours team at the Centre.

The teams at the Monaco Scientific Centre are developing several innovative strands of research together with teams from France and America to better understand what causes paediatric cancers and discover new ways to treat them. This work has led to the MEPENDAX (Medulloblastoma, EPENDymoma, AXitinib) clinical trial.

© Michael Alesi
Marquage fluorescent de cellules neurales humaines en cours de différenciation in vitro (vert : coloration des astrocytes ; rouge : coloration des cellules embryonnaires, bleu : marquage de l'ADN de toutes les cellules).

Launched in June 2023, it aims to repurpose a Pfizer molecule that is already used to treat adult cancer patients. The clinical trial involves 36 patients who are receiving treatment at eight healthcare facilities in France, and will help “to determine the effectiveness and lower toxicity of metronomic administration of Axitinib in combination with reduced doses of traditional chemotherapy.

The Centre’s other areas of research include work on the growth of some paediatric brain cancers. “Our team has turned embryonic neural cells into paediatric cancer cells using a procedure that is not found anywhere else in the world. This technique makes it possible to reproduce, in vitro, the phenomena that are responsible for the most aggressive forms of paediatric brain cancer. By designing the study in this way, we are able to develop specific treatments for paediatric cancer,” says the researcher.

In 2022, the Monaco Scientific Centre also embarked on basic research focused on sea anemones in partnership with the Institute for Research into Cancer and Ageing at the Université Côte d’Azur and with financial support from the Institut National du Cancer (INCa, French National Cancer Institute). Sea anemones, whose embryonic development is very similar to human embryonic development from a genetic perspective, have a very simple nervous system, making it possible to study neurogenesis in vivo at the individual cell level. “This project could produce results that will turn our current understanding of the nature of certain paediatric brain cancers on its head and lead to the development of innovative treatment strategies.

© Michael Alesi

In 2022, the Monaco Science Centre joined forces with React-4Kids (REsearchers in oncology ACTing for Kids), the French national network for basic and translational research into cancers in children and young adults. This initiative – unique in Europe – seeks to accelerate research by promoting collaboration between teams, sharing expertise and resources, and providing a collective response to common problems.

Find out more : www.centrescientifique.mc

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