Scientists have launched a new trial with the hope of treating a rare but deadly childhood cancer.
Neuroblastoma develops from nerve cells and affects about 100 children a year in the UK.
The cancer usually starts in the child’s abdomen and can spread to other areas such as the bones, liver and skin.
Initial symptoms can be vague – such as aches and pains and loss of appetite – and the cancer is often not diagnosed until the later stages, when it is more likely to kill.
Neuroblastoma usually affects children under the age of five, and can occur before a child is born. It is the most common solid tumour in childhood after brain tumours.
In a trial about to be launched, experts from Cancer Research UK are using a new type of molecular radiotherapy which has never been tested in children before.
The treatment uses radiotherapy to “piggy-back” on to a drug that naturally attaches itself to neuroblastoma cells.
Around 24 youngsters aged between 18 months and 18 will be treated during the trial at University College Hospital, London. They will receive up to four treatment courses once every eight weeks.
This treatment is already known to be effective in adults with other types of cancer.
Dr Mark Gaze, lead researcher on the study at University College Hospital, said: “For far too long there has been too little progress for the patients I see every week.
“But in the last year we have finally seen new treatments become available, and new trials have been launched to tackle this terrible disease.
“We have real hope that this method of radiotherapy may be particularly effective and offer a new treatment option for these children.”
Figures show that around 60% of children will survive neuroblastoma but many children have a high-risk form of the disease which is still very hard to cure.
Harri Norman from Newport, south Wales, was two when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in March 2012.
He underwent months of treatment including chemotherapy, surgery and a stem cell transplant. He was getting to the end of his treatment when his family was told he had suffered a relapse.
His father Mike said: “It is terrifying when your child is sick and options start running out, so we jumped at the chance to be on the LuDO trial.
“Not only does it give Harri the best chance possible, but it also gives hope to other families whose children may benefit from this trial.”
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