Countering chemotherapy’s severest side effects

06 November 2018

AesonShortly after his first birthday, Aeson Moen was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of high-risk childhood cancer. Still reeling from this news, his parents Aaron and Ana then learned that some children can have a fatal reaction to the drugs that are standard for treating this type of cancer.

Thankfully, Aeson’s oncologist, Dr Rod Rassekh, was part of a research team with Dr Colin Ross who had found a way of preventing that from happening.

Drs Ross and Rassekh identified genetic markers in children with cancer that predicted who was likely to experience heart failure as a result of their anthracycline treatment, a commonly prescribed group of chemotherapies. Using a genetic test, they discovered Aeson had not 1, but 2 genetic markers that put him at the highest risk of heart failure. With this knowledge, Dr Rassekh changed Aeson’s treatment from anthracycline to a different, safer drug. Aeson has been cancer-free ever since and started kindergarten in September.

“If it hadn’t been for that test, Aeson wouldn’t be here today,” says Aeson’s dad, Aaron.

“We’re really just scratching the surface at the moment,” says Dr Ross. “With the support of CCS, we’ve been able to show that the findings we made in pediatric cancer patients also apply to adult cancer patients which really expands the impact of this research.”

With a CCS Innovation Grant, Dr Ross is taking this research one step further by developing interventions that can protect against anthracycline-induced heart damage. He is once again teaming up with Dr Rassekh to find and test drugs that can prevent anthracycline’s potentially fatal side effects. Their research will help make chemotherapies safer while preserving the use of these highly effective cancer-fighting drugs.