Adult Cancer Therapies May Benefit Kids

katie couric stand up to cancer 11-year-old Pearce Quesenberry brain tumor treatment

Of course there were celebrity appearances at Friday's Stand Up To Cancer prime-time special, but cutting-edge cancer research will also take center stage. And two of science's biggest breakthroughs might soon benefit cancer's littlest victims.

When 11-year-old Pearce Quesenberry began treatment for a brain tumor, losing her long, brown hair wasn't the only thing she'd have to get used to, CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports.

"Like when I was getting this in," Pearce said, pointing to a tube.

"This is called an NG tube. And it goes up my nose and down into my throat and down into my stomach," she explained.

That feeding tube has been a Godsend, because the aggressive radiation and chemotherapy makes it almost impossible for her to eat.

"So that's the nutrition you're getting?" Couric asked.

"Yes, all nutrition," she said.

In a way, it's like making a deal with the devil. Because the treatment, while it may save lives, can be really devastating to kids.

"Absolutely," said Dr. Peter Phillips of the Children's hospital of Philadelphia. "It's difficult enough going through the initial therapy. But the consequences, particularly of radiation therapy has profound effects in terms of their long-term quality of life," he said.

But children may soon reap the benefits of newer, targeted therapies that have been successful in treating other types of cancer in adults. Dr. Tom Curran of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says science has yielded an exciting link between an adult form of skin cancer and medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children.

"The same gene that's mutated in 30 percent of medulloblastoma is mutated in 90 percent of basil cell carcinoma," Curran said.

Curran is working on a drug that specifically targets the defective gene - and turns it off.

He said it represents a new trend in cancer research.

"What we're trying to do is find the underlying cause of the cancer," he said. "And we're finding that sometimes, those underlying causes can be the same in different subsets of breast, prostate, colon and even in rare pediatric brain tumors."

Just down the hall, Dr. John Maris and his team have recently discovered the gene - called ALK - responsible for some lung cancers also causes a rare-but-deadly form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma.

"As pediatric ocologists, we have to be opportunistic," he said. "And it was really a stroke of luck that this gene ALK was recently found to be abnormal in types of lung cancers. So the fact that there are ALK inhibitors being developed by many pharmeceutical companies for lung cancer, gives us the opportunity to tap into that and to use those same exact drugs in children with neuroblastoma."

Learn more about Couric's Stand Up To Cancer efforts on Couric & Co. blog.
Visit the Stand Up To Cancer site.
And while sick children wait for science to learn what it can from adults, there's plenty we can learn from them.

"This is new; I just got it, so I didn't want to take it out," Pearce said, pointing to her nutrition-feeding tube, which would have been painful to remove.

"I don't blame you. Even to be on television, you decided to keep it in and it was a bit of a statement, wasn't it?" Couric asked.

"Yea," Pearce said.

"I'm trying to say that I don't care that I have cancer," Pearce said. "And I don't care what anybody thinks. 'cause it's just me."