One of the indisputable leaders in pediatric immunotherapy, Seattle Children’s hospital has begun a new approach to ridding kids of solid tumor cancer.

The STRIvE-01 trial is currently recruiting children with solid tumor cancer that either couldn’t be cured or reoccurred, and what makes STRIvE-01 different from the many trials that have come before is that it targets solid tumors.

Immunotherapy has had remarkable success against blood cancers like leukemia that spread throughout the body.

“We’re trying to reprogram a patient’s T-cells, a specific type of immune cell, to recognize proteins that are expressed by tumor cells, either normal proteins or abnormal proteins, and we’ve been pretty successful with doing that with leukemia using target CD 19,” said Dr. Katie Albert, assistant professor of sarcoma focused research and principal investigator of the STRIvE-01 trial.

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Finding a target protein is like opening a vulnerable door to the cancer cell, but it has been more difficult with solid tumors. Proteins or antigens that are common to multiple types of cancer tumors are also found in normal human tissue.

“The goal of STRIvE is to launch into trying to find targets for solid tumors where we feel like we can effectively attack the tumor cells. But trying to limit the toxicity that we have to other normal tissues. And so that's why we've chosen the target of EGFR,” said Albert.

EGFR is a protein that is also present in normal human tissue, but Albert said they’ve been able to design the reprogrammed T-cells to seek out EGFR and be tumor-specific in the hope that the attacking T-cell will ignore healthy tissue.

In a Covington cul-de-sac driveway, eight-year-old Mason Nettleton dribbles his basketball, practicing trick moves he’s seen the pros use.

“I'll never forget our doctor describing it as a Snickers bar and that the tumor was inside of his kidney, and it was growing out, and it had started to break through the nougat," said Briana Nettleton, Mason’s mom.

She can smile now as she watches her son and daughter Baily scrimmage in the front yard, because Mason survived that candy-shaped cancer.

But as any family who has faced the life and death that seriousness of a cancer diagnosis can express, it was not good.

“We were checked into the pediatric unit, this is a Friday night, and on Monday morning his kidney was removed. A port was placed in. He started chemotherapy on Friday. So, in a matter of a very short, wham bam, crazy, crazy journey was started,” said Briana.

Traditional therapies for solid tumor cancer can include chemotherapy and radiation, but both of those can be very hard on a developing young body.

Immunotherapy has already shown to be less harmful to patients, which doctors are hoping will one day make it the primary way to eliminate cancer.

“These researchers and doctors and nurses see our kids more than they see their own kids, and they see them struggling, and they see them coming back with secondary cancers because of the treatment they receive. They see their heart failure or organ failure because of the harshness of the drugs, and they say they see that and I think, they are tired of it,” said Briana.

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“We’re trying to find a target that we will have success with our highest risk patients, the patients that we are really desperate to find better therapies for, our patients with relapsed refractory neuroblastoma and bone and soft tissue sarcomas. So those are really the patients that we have in mind,” said Albert.

And that success will provide answers and hope for all children with a cancer diagnosis.

Albert is more than optimistic, because she knows that everyone involved will work to open the door to cancer and invade and conquer.

“We're chipping away, and that's probably what it's going to be like, but even chipping away a little bit at a time with these extraordinarily difficult to treat cancers. That's a big deal,” said Albert.

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“Seattle Children's is trying so hard to make it possible that kids can be kids and kids can be adults and kids can have kids," said Briana. "I think that that gets me super excited."