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Germ cell cancers – protecting children from the side effects of treatment and saving more lives

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Research Training Fellowship*: Dr Shivani Bailey

Up to 45 children are diagnosed with germ cell cancer (GCC) every year in the UK.1 Some of these cancers occur in the ovaries or testes (germ cells develop into eggs and sperm); the rest occur elsewhere in the body, including the brain. Although survival rates are high, some children still die of their disease and current treatments can lead to life-long health problems in survivors. Dr Shivani Bailey, of the University of Cambridge, is studying a possible new treatment, with the ultimate aim of sparing children and young people from long-term side effects and saving more lives.

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Children with germ cell cancers are currently treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy” says Dr Bailey.2,3 “Parents worry not only about whether their child will survive, but also about the toxicity of these therapies and how this might affect the rest of their child’s life.”

Most children with germ cell cancers are cured, but current therapies can have damaging side-effects, as Dr Bailey explains: “Children who survive can go on to develop long-term complications. For example chemotherapy is associated with hearing loss, and kidney, heart and lung problems.”

Although treatment often proves life-saving, sadly it doesn’t work for everyone. “Some children with these tumours die, particularly those who relapse with tumours within the brain, and those whose tumours are resistant to conventional chemotherapy,” says Dr Bailey.

How could this research help?

“Our ultimate aim is to develop a better treatment for children and young people with germ cell cancers – one that improves survival rates and causes fewer long-term side effects, so that patients can live long and healthy lives after treatment,” says Dr Bailey. “Our work focuses on molecules called microRNAs – small pieces of genetic code that help control protein production in cells.”

Certain microRNAs are present in excessive amounts in germ cell cancers. Dr Bailey is investigating whether substances that block the action of these microRNAs could be developed into the safer, more effective drug treatments she is searching for.

Germ cell cancer can affect people of all ages, including babies, children and young people. Indeed, testicular germ cell cancer is one of the commonest causes of cancer in young men.4,5 A better treatment would be welcomed by all.

* Research Training Fellowships:
Each year, Action Medical Research awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research.


  1. Macmillan Cancer Support. Germ cell tumours in children. Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  2. Cancer Research UK. Childhood cancer incidence statistics. Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  3. Cancer Research UK/. Data Table: Childhood cancer incidence in Great Britain 1996-2005. Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  4. NHS Choices. Testicular cancer. Website accessed 6 March 2014.
  5. Teenage Cancer Trust. Testicular cancer. Website accessed 6 March 2014.

Project LeaderResearch Training Fellow: Dr S Bailey MBBS BSc MRCPCH
Project TeamSupervisor: Dr Matthew J Murray MBBChir MA PhD FRCPCH FHEA PGCertMedEdSupervisor: Professor Nicholas Coleman MBChB PhD FRCPath
Project LocationDepartment of Pathology, University of Cambridge
Project duration3 years
Date awarded6 February 2014
Project start date4 February 2015
Project end date31 May 2019
Grant amount£197,895
Grant codeGN2244

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