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ICH researcher leads global effort to protect children with cancer during COVID-19 pandemic

20 May 2020

New international guidance will help frontline staff around the world continue to provide effective care for children and young people with cancer, at a time when these services are under great pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICH researcher leads global effort to protect children with cancer during COVID-19 pandemic

Recognising a significant and immediate global threat to the safe and effective care of children with cancer, the International Society for Paediatric Oncology (SIOP) used its global network of experts to write the advice in just one month.

With hospitals around the world working in vastly different ways and infection control measures changing the way treatment can be delivered, the guidance outlines simple and practical ways of adapting cancer services to keep delivering quality care. 

“We want to enable our colleagues around the world to help and guide their patients and families through informed decision making,” said Professor Kathy Pritchard-Jones, SIOP President and researcher at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH). “We know children with cancer and their families will be worried about what the COVID-19 pandemic means for them. We’ve used our combined experience and expertise to support their physicians with easily accessible clinical guidance, to help them continue treatment whilst doing everything possible to protect people from COVID-19.”

The team’s advice is particularly targeted at low to middle income countries, which are likely to be most severely affected.

Responding to concern that cancer diagnoses may be missed or delayed if families are holding off on reporting symptoms or visiting their GP, this new guidance supports a global drive towards encouraging diagnosis as early as possible.

The guidance includes recommendations for adapting standard approaches to care for six key children’s cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), Wilms tumour – a cancer of the kidney, and low grade glioma - a childhood brain tumour.

Alongside practical advice for clinical care, the guidance outlines ways of supporting families during the pandemic, from making sure they have the opportunity to ask questions, to providing referral for psychological support. It also recommends steps to keep medical staff safe throughout.

“We brought together SIOP members and clinical leads from around the world to pull this together in the space of one month,” says Professor Pritchard-Jones. “It’s a fantastic example of people coming together, many of them giving up their personal time, to try and make sure a vulnerable group of children and their families keep getting the care they need.”

Professor Darren Hargrave, GOSH consultant and children’s cancer researcher at the ICH, contributed to the guidance on brain tumours. He says: “Our guidance lays out practical advice for delivering treatments such as radiotherapy and surgery, and the safety of delaying or adapting some treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The SIOP is the only global multidisciplinary professional society entirely devoted to supporting children and young people with cancer. Through global collaboration, education, training, research and advocacy, the SIOP are working towards achieving their vision that ‘no child should die of cancer’.

This study was led by the SIOP and received no specific funding, reflecting the commitment from all authors and their organisations to invest personal time and resource. Professor Pritchard-Jones is supported in part by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Other organisations who provided key support in assembling the team of experts include St Jude Global Programme and the Children’s Oncology Group, based in the USA, the tumour-specific clinical trial group leaders of SIOP Europe, members of the Paediatric Radiation Oncology Society (PROS) and the International Society of Paediatric Oncology Surgery IPSO) and Childhood Cancer International, a global organisation representing childhood cancer parents’ associations.

All research at GOSH and the ICH is underpinned by support from the NIHR Great Ormond Street Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and GOSH Charity.

 

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Notes to editors

About the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) 

The UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) is part of the Faculty of Population Health Sciences within the School of Life and Medical Sciences at University College London. Together with its clinical partner Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust (GOSH), it forms the UK's only paediatric National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre and has the largest concentration of children's health research in Europe. For more information visit www.ucl.ac.uk/child-health

About Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust 

Founded in 1852, Great Ormond Street Hospital is one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals with the broadest range of dedicated, children’s healthcare specialists under one roof in the UK. With more than 252,000 outpatient and 43,000 inpatient visits every year, the hospital’s pioneering research and treatment gives hope to children from across the UK with the rarest, most complex and often life-threatening conditions. As an international centre of excellence in child healthcare, our patients and families are central to everything we do – from the moment they come through the door and for as long as they need us. Visit www.gosh.nhs.uk

Research at GOSH is underpinned by support from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and GOSH Charity.

About Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity needs to raise money to support the hospital to give seriously ill children, the best chance for life. The charity funds research into pioneering new treatments for children, provides the most up to date medical equipment, funds support services for children and their families and supports the essential rebuilding and refurbishment of the hospital. You can help us to provide world class care for our patients and families. For more information visit www.gosh.org  

About the NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.