Having a child diagnosed with cancer is a scenario that no parent wants to imagine—yet it is the reality for thousands of families each year. Many of these families then go on to discover that treatments for pediatric cancer can take a devastating toll. 

“I lost my 9-year-old son, Zach, to AML (acute myeloid leukemia) following four years of brutal chemotherapy, full body radiation and three bone marrow transplants,” said Julie Guillot, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) ambassador and pediatric outreach chair. “Sadly, he died in the ICU on a ventilator from treatment-related toxicity. His little body couldn’t take any more.”

Unfortunately, Julie’s story is not uncommon. Forty percent of pediatric cancers are blood cancers, which attack the body’s natural defenses. As Julie explained, “These kids endure multiple rounds of ‘maximum a human can tolerate,’ highly toxic chemotherapy that wipes out their immune system. Many land in the ICU with life-threatening infections.”

Zach Guillot

According to a 2021 report from LLS, 60% of childhood cancer survivors develop chronic health conditions as a result of treatment. Despite this, pediatric-specific research and improvements in cancer treatments for kids have been slower than research and trial developments for adults. “Despite great progress, kids like Zach wait 6.5 years longer than adults to get access to new drugs. This is unacceptable,” Julie said. 

Yet, there is more reason for hope than ever: The Dare to Dream Project, a bold new phase of the LLS Children’s Initiative, is a groundbreaking nonprofit initiative that is helping power research, explore safer treatment options, provide education and patient services, and advocate for pediatric cancer patients. A significant part of this is PedAL, a first-of-its-kind global master clinical trial for pediatric acute leukemia that will test multiple therapies simultaneously at clinical sites worldwide.

“Our goal is no less than a wholesale shift in the standard of care for pediatric patients, thinking beyond toxic chemotherapies that leave survivors with lifelong health challenges to effective, safe treatments that don’t cause as much harm to the rest of the child’s body,” said Gwen Nichols, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at LLS and co-chair of PedAL.

The Dare to Dream Project recognizes that children are not just little adults, so their cancer treatment shouldn’t just be a downsized version of what’s available for adult patients. By tapping into medical advancements and exploring the promise of more tailored treatment, PedAL is advancing more effective, safer treatment options with fewer long-term side effects.

PedAL works by identifying each child’s unique tumor biology and matching them with a specific treatment for their specific type of cancer. With trials available around the world, families can enroll eligible children in the therapeutic trials that best meet their needs—which stands to help the individual participants as well as countless others by contributing to research that helps scientists find patterns. 

For parents like Julie, who experienced her child enduring four years of “harrowing” cancer treatments, this initiative is a newfound reason for optimism. “I’m hopeful that PedAL will enable every child—regardless of situation or location—to access cutting-edge therapies faster,” Julie said. “These kids want to live and deserve less toxic, more curative options.”

Along with PedAL, the Dare to Dream Project supports pediatric blood cancer patients and their families across multiple levels—from support services to educational tools to advocacy that breaks down barriers to quality health care and more. While the best scenario is that no family would need these services, the next-best option is doing everything possible to help children with cancer truly thrive

Visit the Dare to Dream Project’s website for more information about PedAL.