Cure for All Childhood Cancers by 2040, Asserts ICRF Researcher
To commemorate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, ICRF interviews Professor Shai Israeli, MD, Director of the Hematology–Oncology Department at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, about his prestigious ICRF Professorship Grant, which focuses on both lowering the toxicity of cancer therapy and highly resistant leukemias.
As a leader in the field of pediatric cancer, can you tell us about the focus of your new five-year grant?
In the 40 years that I have been a physician, there has been a dramatic revolution in the outcome of childhood leukemia. In 1982, when I finished medical school, only 40 percent of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common cancer in children, were cured. Today, close to 90 percent are cured. By “cured,” I mean cured for life! I always say to parents of a child with leukemia that our goal is that their child will become a grandparent; namely, he or she will live a normal life span with normal functioning. Unfortunately, up to 3 percent of children with leukemia die from chemotherapy, and many develop long-term health problems due to the effects of chemotherapy. One of the areas of our research focuses on lowering the toxicity of therapy. A major problem in treating children with leukemia is that it often spreads to the brain. Thus, every child receives toxic chemotherapy or even irradiation to prevent the spread of leukemia. This therapy sometimes damages the brain. Even slight damage is significant for the future life of a child.
Our second area of research focuses on those leukemias that are difficult to cure, such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I plan to use the generous funding provided by the ICRF Professorship Grant to attack this problem. Despite curing 90 percent of children with ALL, this is clearly not enough for the 10 percent of parents whose child dies from AML. In research that we hope to publish in the journal, Nature Communications, by the end of the year, we identified a new way to treat highly resistant AML. With ICRF’s support, we will take this research forward and aim to discover a more efficient therapy for AML.
“ICRF has been instrumental…in our internationally-acclaimed discoveries of childhood leukemias driven by abnormal signaling, many of which have a bad prognosis, but also have a possibility for a cure with novel biological therapies.”
Shai Izraeli, MD
Tel Aviv University
ICRF Research Professorship Grant
You have been quoted in the media as saying that all childhood cancers will be curable by 2040. Can you elaborate on this optimistic projection?
When I completed medical school, most children with cancer died from their disease. Currently, only 20 percent succumb to this devastating disease. As a result of extensive research – partially supported by the ICRF – we know much more about the mechanisms of childhood cancer and we have novel therapies, such as immunotherapies.
How has ICRF been supportive of your research in childhood leukemia?
To be perfectly honest, I initially failed to get support from ICRF. This attests to the high level of science in grant applications submitted to ICRF. And, frankly, during my first steps as an independent researcher, I was simply not good enough. But over time, I have improved and for the last 18 years or so I have been continuously supported by the organization. The support was instrumental in our internationally-acclaimed discoveries of childhood leukemias driven by abnormal signaling, many of which have a bad prognosis, but also have a possibility for a cure with novel biological therapies.