A pilot study aiming to sequence 81 cancer genes in children’s tumours has begun in the UK, in the hope of driving dramatic improvements in treating the disease through a more personalised approach.

Around 400 children with solid tumours at 21 hospitals across the country will start to receive the new genetic test, which is designed to pick up key mutations in tumours fuelling cancer’s growth and spread.

The move is part of a wider programme that ultimately aims to test all children with solid tumours in the UK, and then match their profiles with clinical trials targeting particular mutations within their tumours.

Testing will take about two years, with initial funding from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).

The initial aim is to assess the reliability and usefulness of the test in a research setting. If successful, the aim is to move testing more routinely into the clinic, so that the results can lead to better-informed decisions on the best treatment.

“Children deserve the very best, modern treatments for cancer, but for too long there have been delays in applying the latest molecular techniques to personalise their treatment,” noted study leader Professor Louis Chesler, Professor of Paediatric Cancer Biology at The ICR and consultant at The Royal Marsden. 

“A more comprehensive and structured approach to genetic testing to match children with cancer to specific targeted treatments could be an incredibly important step towards increasing survival.”

“We believe this gene sequencing test is the key ‘foundation stone’ in enabling personalised medicine for children,” added Karen Capel, founder and trustee of UK children’s cancer charity Christopher’s Smile, which funded the development of the test.