The Kids’ Cancer Project is raising money and saving lives. Here’s how you can help.
The Kids’ Cancer Project has come a long way since founder Col Reynolds spotted two bald children outside a Sydney children’s hospital from the window of his bus in the 1980s. Perhaps the biggest leap came in 2004 when Dr Luciano Dalla-Pozza (now practicing at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead) suggested that whilst taking kids out for a day of fun and frivolity brightened spirits, he could make a bigger difference raising money for childhood cancer research.
That’s just what Reynolds did, and this year The Kids’ Cancer Project is helping fund the work of 47 scientists across Australia and involved in 32 research projects. The charity is striving to raise $1.7 million by the end of October to help find cures for childhood cancer, the biggest killer of Australian children by disease. Though great strides have been made since Reynolds’ first coach day trip—the survival rate has flipped from 20% to 80% in the last three decades—there are still 950 Aussie kids diagnosed with cancer each year, with three dying every week. Owen Finegan, the charity’s CEO, spoke with VENTURE about the advances made and challenges still ahead.
Through a collaborative funding scheme, The Kids’ Cancer Project and other similarly focused charities are able to double or even triple funding to innovate childhood cancer research. And, for the first time, the charity is running a matching appeal across all its various revenue streams in recognition of September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to maximise donations from the public via the scheme right through October. The funding will go to the successful researchers of peer-reviewed competitive grants.
Businesses and individuals are welcome to support the campaign and even those who can’t afford to donate right now can still contribute with goods, services, or value in kind. “There are opportunities to donate time and expertise,” Finegan said. “Some of our partners are doing fundraising challenges during COVID to engage their staff remotely, get out and get active.”
Simply using whatever platform is available to get the information to the right people can boost donations exponentially.
“It’s about us giving researchers the chance to be bold and innovative and jump-start their research,” Finegan said.
These small projects often secure much more funding after a boost from The Kids’ Cancer Project to make breakthroughs that drive improved outcomes for kids.
One of those projects is ZERO Childhood Cancer, which focuses on personalised medicine for kids whose cancers have a survival rate of less than 30%. Their genomics and DNA testing is sent overseas to match them with the best treatment for them. After an early boost from The Kids’ Cancer Project, ZERO Childhood Cancer recently secured $67 million in funding from the Minderoo Foundation and federal government. By 2023, every child with cancer in Australia should be getting personalised treatment thanks to the efforts.
“Obviously, finding the magic bullet is hard, but finding a better kind of treatment that has fewer side effects or reduces the amount of chemotherapy is a real benefit to children in their survivorship and quality of life,” Finegan said.
Through a process called biobanking, researchers are able to test new targets and drugs on tumor samples from a national tumor bank, learning more about how cancer cells work. The aim is to attack cancer cells whilst leaving healthy cells unharmed.
“Where childhood cancer treatment was 30 years ago was just about smashing them all with chemo trying to kill the cancer cells. Now we’re looking at, ‘How do we kill cancer cells without damaging the rest of the human body’. For children that’s important because they’ve got possibly another 60 or 70 years of their lives to deal with the side effects.”
As Finegan knows from a rugby career that included 56 caps for the Wallabies amid ankle, knee, and shoulder surgeries, there are always more challenges after each triumph. A decade on with The Kids’ Cancer Project, he’s seen breakthroughs in genetic and molecular testing, immunotherapy, with a drug called DFMO, and other innovations. When he started, the charity was involved with two clinical trials. That’s now up to 11.
But often because of the complicated nature of the science, research results can be difficult for the public to understand. Getting treatments and trials into hospitals and access to quality care throughout the country are constant hurdles. Because childhood cancer is a genetic, DNA-based problem—50% of instances occur before the child is born—it’s impossible to organise campaigns around eating right or other preventative measures.
“Every day three kids are getting diagnosed, and every week three of them are passing away,” he said. “Internationally that number is much larger.”
“Our challenges pale in comparison to what some people are going through. It’s a great way to wake up every morning just thinking hopefully you can make a difference for these kids and families.”
Improved survival rates and better treatments are great, but The Kids’ Cancer Project’s mission won’t be accomplished until they can eradicate childhood cancer. Until then, it’s fighting and advocating for the most vulnerable among us.
“We’re representing kids with cancer,” Finegan said. “They don’t have a very loud voice, so we have to be loud for them.”