The Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Congress, ANR2016, was held 19-23 June at the Cairns Convention Centre in Queensland. This international conference provided a key opportunity for research scientists, clinicians, early career fellows, nurses and other allied health care workers to be updated on the latest basic, translational and clinical research developments in the field of childhood neuroblastoma. Around 400 neuroblastoma experts from around the world attended. Convened by Children’s Cancer Institute, this was the first time an ANR conference was held in the southern hemisphere. Previous conferences had been held in North America, Europe and Asia. A special feature of the Cairns conference was strong engagement of parents and supporters with specific program content. The conference website is at www.anr2016.org.
The next ANR conference will be held in San Francisco in 2018.
On 23 June, a Neuroblastoma Parents Day was held as part of ANR2016. As well as about 20 parents attending in person, the talks were live streamed to children’s hospitals around around the world for families unable to travel to Cairns. The day included presentations, discussion panels and Q&A sessions. Parents found the day very helpful. Videos of the presentations are on YouTube on the Australian Patient Education channel, click here.
Several research achievements were announced at the time of the conference:
- Childhood cancer cells face a testing future. In the future, simple blood tests for circulating tumour cells or DNA (‘called ‘liquid biopsies’) could be an efficient and non-invasive way to track changes in patients with one of childhood’s more common cancers, neuroblastoma. This was an emerging topic at ANR2016. More information in the media release click here and an article written for LabOnline by Prof Murray Norris click here.
- Disruptive protein opens doors to spread tumours. Much like the remote control on a garage door, stathmin sends signals that let cancer cells into and out of blood vessels. Researchers at Children’s Cancer Institute have found that the protein stathmin helps neuroblastoma to spread by disrupting cell signals, letting cancer cells gain entry into organs away from the original tumour. This finding, presented at ANR2016, and published in the journal Oncogene, paves the way to identify new anti-cancer drugs that target the protein. More information in the media release click here.
Summary of ANR2016 presentations
Progress in neuroblastoma research from the conference included:
- Inroads into feasibility testing of chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR-T) cells immunotherapy approaches with success in manufacturing patient-specific CAR-T cells for heavily pre-treated high-risk patients. Efforts are underway to determine whether these cells persist in patients.
- A Phase II trial suggesting that long-term infusion of an anti-GD2 antibody is still effective but with reduced toxicities.
- Initial studies comparing the genetics of neuroblastomas at diagnosis and relapse. Analysis of relapse tumours and comparison with paired diagnosis samples.
- Alterations to the gene TERT, which mediates a crucial process that allows tumour cells to replicate indefinitely, define a frequently occurring subset of poor-outcome tumours without MYCN amplification.
- Indications that at least 10% of children with neuroblastoma have a germline (i.e. not tumour-specific) DNA mutation in a gene known to confer tumour susceptibility. This may extend knowledge of genetic susceptibility beyond a small number of established drivers.
- Phase 3 trials
- A Children’s Oncology Group (COG) trial suggests that the use of a tandem autologous stem cell transplantation following myeloablative therapy is more effective than a single transplant approach. This study has highlighted the need for ongoing randomised clinical trials, specifically to compare the COG tandem transplant with the SIOPEN BuMel single transplant.
- Disease detection and monitoring with liquid biopsies
- A series of new studies indicate that significant levels of tumour-derived DNA and RNA are present in the bloodstream in patients with neuroblastoma, and that these can be analysed to give information on tumour-specific aberrations, disease heterogeneity, tumour evolution and drug response using a non-invasive approach. This is a rapidly growing field and ANR2016 featured for the first time a session dedicated to this topic (see ‘media stories’ above).
- Long-term follow up
- Indications from analysis of the International Neuroblastoma Risk Group (INRG) database that exposure to modern, high-risk neuroblastoma therapy increases the risk of second cancers.
- Lifetime achievement awards
- The Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Association (ANRA) recognised Professors Andrew Pearson (UK) and Robert Seeger (USA) with lifetime achievement awards for their outstanding and sustained contributions to the field through world-leading research and clinical contributions, international leadership and mentoring.