Kids born with Down syndrome are at high risk of an array of health problems – including issues with sight, hearing, heart defects, bone complications, immune disorders and learning difficulties. One of the lesser-known complications is their increased risk of childhood leukaemia.
Acute leukaemia is the most common type of cancer in children, affecting more than 200 Australian children annually. But some children are more prone than most, with those born with the genetic disorder Down syndrome carrying a 27-fold risk of developing B-cell leukaemia.
Not only are kids with Down syndrome at higher risk of developing leukaemia, but they also have a harder time fighting it – responding poorly to current treatments and facing triple the risk of having toxic secondary effects. They are also at almost twice the risk of relapse compared to other children.
It’s a load Telethon Kids cancer researcher, Dr Sébastien Malinge, has dedicated more than a decade of his career to lightening.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many children with Down syndrome over the last ten years, and their warmth and kind nature continues to inspire me,” Dr Malinge said.
“I felt genetics had been unfair to these kids. They’re at an increased risk of lymphoid leukaemia and are given a far worse prognosis – and that’s what drives me, finding the genetic causes of this to give them the same fighting chance against leukaemia as any other kid.