New SickKids facility provides innovative targeted cancer therapy closer to home

These treatments take years to develop, and many carry with them a hefty price tag for hospitals. As a result, existing targeted therapies are not always easily accessible, so cancer patients are often left enduring long waits and travelling far from home to undergo these treatments.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) plans to change this for children with relapsed neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve tissue that is responsible for 10 per cent of cancer-related deaths in children worldwide. Today is the official launch of the new Garron Family MIBG Suite at SickKids, which will offer young patients access to an innovative, targeted treatment for relapsed neuroblastoma.

“Our parents are very informed; they are always thinking one step ahead and asking about our Plan B in case of relapse,” says Dr. Sylvain Baruchel, Director of the New Agent and Innovative Therapy Program (NAIT) in Haematology/Oncology at SickKids. “This facility is another tool in our toolkit, giving us the ability to provide MIBG therapy, as well as a combination of MIBG therapy and new drugs. Now we can offer our patients all the available treatment options for relapsed neuroblastoma, right here at SickKids.”

High-dose metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) therapy has demonstrated promising results as a highly effective therapy for children with relapsed neuroblastoma. The Garron Family MIBG Suite at SickKids is the first paediatric MIBG centre in Ontario, second in Canada and one of only 13 in North America. It is the largest in size in the country.

High-dose MIBG therapy is composed of a radioactive isotope of iodine (I-131) and the MIBG molecule, which are administered intravenously. The radioactive iodine is carried to the tumour cells by the MIBG and specifically attaches to them. The radiation is delivered to the cancer cells, shrinks the primary tumours and destroys the metastasized cancer cells. MIBG therapy allows for a much higher dose of radiation to be sent directly to tumours and is an effective method to transport radiation via the bloodstream to metastasized neuroblastoma cells. The targeted nature of MIBG therapy means patients may experience fewer side-effects than with other cancer treatments. MIBG therapy may improve the quality of life of young children, who will be given one infusion of high-dose radiation instead of more than six rounds of traditional chemotherapy.

The Garron Family MIBG Suite’s lead-lined room is specifically designed to monitor and minimize, to a safe and approved level, radiation exposure to the family and staff caring for the patient. Children must remain in the room for five to seven days following the treatment, until the radiation in their body has been reduced to a level where they could safely go home. In an effort to maintain SickKids’ family-centred care philosophy, there is an integrated space for a parent who can safely stay in the room while their child is receiving treatment. The Garron Family MIBG Suite is the only centre in the world that has an integrated radio pharmacy, which ensures the treatment is safely prepared onsite and is ready to be administered immediately at the bedside.

Until now, Ontario children needed to travel to the U.S. or Montreal to obtain this treatment, resulting in added financial and logistical strain for families. The new $5-million facility will enable children with relapsed neuroblastoma to be treated closer to home. It is funded by the Garron family, as part of their transformational $30-million gift made to SickKids in October 2010, establishing the Garron Family Cancer Centre.

“We are grateful for the generous support of Myron and Berna Garron in helping SickKids provide such an innovative and effective treatment option for children with a complex cancer that is challenging to manage,” says Mary Jo Haddad, SickKids President and CEO.

Neuroblastoma is the most common infant cancer and the most common solid tumour found outside the brain in the nervous system in children. About 80 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma every year in Canada; of these, more than 40 are classified as high risk, requiring intensive therapy, and about 20 of these high-risk patients will relapse. SickKids treats about 15 to 20 neuroblastoma patients annually.

“Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Garron family, SickKids will now be able to move forward with providing improved treatment to children suffering from neuroblastoma – something that was not available in Ontario before,” says Deb Matthews, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. “This is fantastic news and I am so grateful to see such a contribution made that will ultimately help children through services offered by SickKids.”

High-dose MIBG therapy is currently only indicated for children with relapsed neuroblastoma who participate in clinical trials or through a special access program from Health Canada, when such clinical trials are not available. However, experts are hopeful that it will eventually become a standard of care for children in a subgroup of patients with newly-diagnosed, high-risk neuroblastoma.  

“This targeted treatment is adding a new modality to the treatment of relapsed neuroblastoma that has shown promising health outcomes,” says Dr. Baruchel, who is also Staff Oncologist at SickKids and Senior Associate Scientist at SickKids Research Institute. “As our research continues, we hope to make high-dose MIBG therapy available to more Canadian children who may benefit from it.”

SickKids is the only Canadian centre participating in the New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy (NANT), a North American consortium made up of 15 universities and children’s hospitals. This consortium is investigating promising new therapies in combination with MIBG therapy.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit

About SickKids Foundation
Established in 1972, SickKids Foundation raises funds on behalf of The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and is the largest charitable funder of child health research, learning and care in Canada. Philanthropy is a critical source of funding for SickKids — one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions. For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, SickKids Foundation made an unprecedented investment of $92.6 million in children’s health, a direct result of generous community and corporate support. For more information, please visit

For more information please contact: 

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 202059
[email protected]

Sandra Chiovitti
SickKids Foundation
[email protected]

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