From fear to hope for children with brain cancer

Children with brain cancer now have a better chance at a healthier future, thanks to a groundbreaking new program at Hudson Institute.

Lucia Giannone

Dancing around to music and feeding chickens at her grandparents’ home, Lucia Giannone is now the picture of a happy, loving three-and-a-half year old girl.

Yet, just over a year ago, Lucia’s parents, Maree and Paul, received devastating news. Lucia was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

“Receiving a diagnosis like that for your child stops your world – it rocks you to the core,” Paul says.

Treatment options for Lucia were limited. Her tumour was too large and intertwined in the delicate brainstem to undergo surgery.

After consultation with Dr Peter Downie, Lucia’s oncologist at Monash Children’s Hospital, a tiny portion of Lucia’s tumour was sent for genetic testing on our site. A specific mutation in the gene, BRAF V600, was identified which meant that Lucia could immediately be started on a drug called dabrafenib, a personalised ‘match’ for the mutation.

Incredibly, in the 12 months since starting treatment, Lucia’s tumour hasn’t grown and it has even reduced slightly in size. “She has progressed beyond expectation,” her father Paul says gratefully.

With your help we can do more

In the past, Lucia’s treatment would have been limited to one-size-fits-all chemotherapy and radiation treatment with devastating side effects, to which the tumour may not have responded.

“Every child’s tumour is genetically unique and responds to cancer treatment in a different way,” Head of Hudson Institute’s Centre for Cancer Research, Associate Professor Ron Firestein, says.

A/Prof Firestein is leading a new research collaboration between Hudson Institute and Monash Children’s Hospital, which aims to develop more targeted therapies for children with brain tumours, like Lucia.

“Our new on-site tumour testing platform means we will soon be able to help clinicians identify treatments to match the tumour type, with fewer side effects and hopefully better results,” A/Prof Firestein says.

The future is promising

Lucia takes the treatment as a tablet at home twice a day and there are no hospital visits for invasive chemotherapy or radiation.

“Using this drug to treat paediatric brain tumours is a new approach that is only being done in a few places in the world,” says Dr Downie.

While there is still a long road ahead for Lucia, her treatment is allowing Paul and Maree to look to the future.

“The fear of what comes next is always there, but we’ve now got hope for a normal childhood for Lucia,” Paul says.

“It’s all because of research partnerships like this, where targeted therapies provide hope to parents and their children with cancer. It really gives you the drive when you need it.”

We urgently need your support to expand this program to help more children like Lucia.

“Research is the key to finding a cure for children with brain cancer, so it’s important that scientists are funded to find new treatments. In your darkest hour, having hope for a brighter future helps you face each day. Please help by making a tax deductible donation.” Paul Giannone (Lucia’s dad).

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