Childhood cancer breakthrough fills Leah's family with hope

Leah and Jo Martin

Leah and Jo Martin. - Credit: BRAIN TUMOUR RESEARCH

The family of a Paignton girl diagnosed aged two with an aggressive brain tumour have welcomed news of a childhood cancer breakthrough.

Leah Martin was the inspiration behind Brain Tumour Research fundraising group Leah’s Fairy Fund which has raised more than £23,700 to date to help fund research to improve outcomes for brain tumour patients.

Now the nine year old's family have welcomed news that scientists have found a new way to starve cancerous brain tumour cells of energy in order to prevent further growth.

Mum Jo said: “Having witnessed the horrendous journey Leah has experienced over the years and knowing she has to contend with long-term effects, we welcome any developments which could lead to more effective and less barbaric treatments.

"This research news fills us with hope for children in the future diagnosed with brain tumours and particularly medulloblastoma.”

The findings by Professor Silvia Marino and her team at the Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London, funded by the charity Brain Tumour Research, could see a breakthrough in the way that children with medulloblastoma brain tumours are treated in future.

Leah Martin with her sister Jasmine, 13

Leah Martin with her sister Jasmine, 13. - Credit: BRAIN TUMOUR RESEARCH

Medulloblastoma is the most common high-grade brain tumour in children. Some 70 are diagnosed in the UK each year. Survival rate is 70 per cent for those whose tumour has not spread but it is almost always fatal in cases of recurrent tumour.

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The Martin family discovered how underfunded research into brain tumours was, when daughter Leah was diagnosed and went onto set up the fundraising group, Leah’s Fairy Fund, under the umbrella of the charity Brain Tumour Research.

To date, they have raised more than £23,700 and are delighted that scientists working at their local Centre of Excellence within the University of Plymouth have recently announced their own exciting research news that a simple blood test could replace surgery for some brain tumour patients.

Leah Martin with her mum, Jo

Leah Martin with her mum, Jo. - Credit: BRAIN TUMOUR RESEARCH

Leah was diagnosed with a high-grade medulloblastoma in December 2013. She has since undergone several operations, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which have left the youngster with long-term side effects including problems with her speech and mobility, as well as severe learning difficulties and growth issues due to hormonal deficiencies.

Jo said: “It was my worst nightmare when I heard that Leah had an aggressive brain tumour and I remember collapsing on the floor and crying. I was terrified that Leah wasn’t going to survive. And then she had to go through heart-wrenching surgery and gruelling chemotherapy treatment.”

Leah’s first surgery had to be aborted because the pins holding her head completely still to enable delicate neurosurgery to go ahead had somehow fractured her skull.

She underwent two further craniotomies before surgeons were confident the tumour had been removed.

Sadly, it was found that Leah had developed Posterior Fossa Syndrome (PFS), a condition which can occur in children following surgery to remove certain brain tumour types, leaving them with issues which can include speech, movement and swallowing.

Despite gruelling chemotherapy treatment, Leah’s tumour was found to be growing again just over a year after the original diagnosis.

Jo said: “We had no indication that anything was wrong. To see the tumour had already grown to 1.5cm was a deeply shocking reality check and I was hysterical. Our little girl had to go through more chemotherapy and this time radiotherapy as well." 

Professor Silvia Marino at Queen Mary University of London

Professor Silvia Marino at Queen Mary University of London - Credit: BRAIN TUMOUR RESEARCH

Prof Marino, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “We have identified a novel way that grade four medulloblastoma is able to adapt its metabolism and grow uncontrollably. Significantly, we have also shown how this energy supply can be blocked.

"These exciting results bring hope of developing new targeted treatments for patients with this aggressive paediatric brain tumour.”

Hugh Adams from the Brain Tumour Research said: “These very exciting results reveal a new way for epigenetics to control metabolism within tumour cells. Clinical trials are now required, offering promise to a particularly vulnerable group of patients.

 “It is great news and brings some much-needed hope for the future. There is still some way to go but we hope that a clinical trial could be up and running in as little as two years.

 “Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 yet, historically, just one per cent of the national cancer spend has been allocated to this devastating disease. Brain Tumour Research is determined to change this.”

In March this year, Jo ran a virtual marathon pushing Leah in a buggy and her husband Wayne and eldest daughter Jasmine, 13, are excitedly looking forward to having a date to do the South West Uphill Quarry Abseil near Bristol, postponed last May because of the pandemic.

To donate to Brain Tumour Research via Leah’s Fairy Fund go to www.justgiving.com/teams/leahmartinfairyfund