New treatment could save children's eyes from cancer



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Posted on March 10, 2010 at 6:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 10 at 7:05 PM

Retinoblastoma is a devastating cancer that leads children into a world of darkness. A new effort is focused on finding treatments that can save these kids and their eyesight.

Angela Van Beveren saw it in one of her daughter's eyes when she was only a few weeks old: a strange glow.

"It just seemed like something was not right," she said.

It was retinoblastoma. Within a year, doctors had to remove the eye to stop the cancer.

"At which point, I completely lost it, thinking of my little girl with no eye," said Van Beveren.

Today, Angela's daughter Leah has a prosthesis she calls her "hero eye."

"It saved my life!" Leah said.

Now researchers are working on treatments to kill the cancer before a child's eye has to be removed - the first suicide gene therapy.

Doctors inject viral particles into the eye, then follow it up with a powerful IV drug to launch an all-out attack on tumor cells.

"The product is poisonous to the cell, and the cell eventually dies because of that," said Dr. Murali Chintagumpala, pediatric oncologist, Retinoblastoma Center of Houston.

The second new therapy is proton beam radiation, which targets only the tumor.

"We will be able to spare the normal tissues around the eye from the effects of radiation therapy, thereby reducing long-term side effects including future cancers," said Chintagumpala.

Leah's now celebrating five years cancer-free. She's a little girl who had to sacrifice a lot, but is now enjoying every moment of growing up.

In kids with retinoblastoma, it's common for a camera flash to produce the appearance of a white pupil in photos. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says if this is the case, take your child to an eye doctor immediately.

If the cancer is stopped in the eye, the cure rate is 95 percent.