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Modern cancer medicine for children in Jordan

No. 24 | 22/04/2022 | by Moos

In the presence of the Jordanian princess and patron, Her Royal Highness Princess Ghida Talal, the King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) in Jordan, together with the Hopp Children's Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ), opened its new unit for the molecular classification of brain tumors and connective tissue tumors. The establishment of the new procedure in Jordan is the result of KHCC's successful collaboration with scientists and physicians at KiTZ, Heidelberg University Hospital (UKHD), and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), which initiated the collaboration in 2019. KHCC is considered the leading cancer center in the Middle East. The treatment of childhood cancer is an important focus there as Jordan has comparatively many young cancer patients.

The Hopp Children's Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ) is a joint institution of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg University Hospital (UKHD) and the University of Heidelberg (Uni HD).

Stefan Pfister, Director at KiTZ, is honoured by Princess Ghida Talal for his "Memorial Lecture" in memory of the Arab polymath Usama Al-Khalidi.
© King Hussein Cancer Foundation, KHCF

"The King Hussein Cancer Center is delighted to partner with the German Cancer Research Center. Partnerships with international cancer centers play a vital role in advancing our work through exchanging experiences and information, and harnessing cutting-edge technologies in research," states Princess Ghida Talal, Chairperson of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation (KHCF) and Center (KHCC), praising the successful partnership with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the Hopp Children's Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital (UKHD).

Aiming to intensify scientific exchange to develop modern diagnostic and therapeutic options for cancer patients, KHCC and DKFZ had signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019. The focus of this cooperation is on cancer in children, adolescents, and young adults, which plays a special role in Jordan. Initiated by KiTZ, a new unit for molecular tumor classification could now be established at KHCC, which was opened on April 20 in the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Ghida Talal.

In Jordan, 500 children are diagnosed with cancer every year. In relation to the number of inhabitants, this is twice as many as in Germany, because Jordan has a very young population. In addition, Jordan's population is comparatively closely related. This also results in different causes and distribution patterns for cancer: The incidence of hereditary cancers in children is presumed to be many times higher in Jordan, although exact figures are still lacking. For instance, familial cases probably account for about half of all colorectal cancer cases in children. The more homogeneous gene pool also reveals certain genetic causes of childhood cancer that cannot be studied at all in other parts of the world. Such rare genetic defects occur in Jordan, for example, in glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain tumor that also occurs in children.

"The collaboration with the scientists and physicians at KHCC is a great gain for us, and an opportunity to find treatment options for children with cancer, especially those with rare tumors. Furthermore, this includes - but is of course not limited - to ethnic groups that are typically very underrepresented in scientific studies," says Stefan Pfister, director at KiTZ, and department head of DKFZ and a pediatric oncologist at Heidelberg University Hospital (UKHD), who also gave a lecture in memory of the Arab biochemist and polymath Usama al-Khalidi during his visit to KHCC.

The molecular tumor classification procedure established at KHCC in collaboration with KiTZ, DKFZ, and UKHD intends to make it possible to better delineate certain tumor subgroups in children, and furthermore, to diagnose them in the future. For example, regarding tumors of the central nervous system alone, more than 150 different types can already be distinguished, which respond very differently to radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The vast variability makes it difficult to standardize diagnostic procedures. The computer-based method, which is now installed locally at KHCC and will be further developed into a diagnostically useful test, uses chemical markers on the tumor genome, known as methylations. These patterns can also be used to better classify particularly rare tumor types in order to apply the most promising treatment. "We now have a lot of experience in training colleagues in this method and are even considering designing an online tutorial on it," says Felix Sahm, head of Molecular Neuropathology at the UKHD, who helped establish the method and supervised its installation at KHCC.

KHCC in Amman is considered one of the leading cancer centers in the Middle East, networking with experts from around the world through international tumor boards and training programs. "We are very excited about this successful launch of our collaboration. Establishing a tumor classification based on methylation is one of many projects we plan to implement with Stefan Pfister's team and other colleagues at DKFZ, with the goals of enhancing our capacity in state-of-the-art genomics and epi-genomics assays, as well as fostering our research collaboration," Abdelghani Tbakhi, chairman of the Department of Cell Therapy & Applied Genomics at KHCC, says. "We rely very heavily on international cooperation, which we would also like to strengthen further through mutual visits and joint training of experts," adds Abdelghani Tbakhi, who visited the laboratories in Heidelberg in March this year to follow the classification process in detail himself.

Photos are available for download at:

Photo 1: 
Stefan Pfister, Director at KiTZ, is honoured by Princess Ghida Talal for his "Memorial Lecture" in memory of the Arab polymath Usama Al-Khalidi.

Photo 2: 
>From left: Abdelghani Tbakhi, Head of the Department of Cell Therapy and Applied Genomics at KHCC; Stefan Pfister Director KiTZ; HRH Princess Ghida Talal; Asem H. Mansour CEO & Director KHCC; Hikmat Abdel-Razeq, Deputy Director and Chief Medical Officer, Head of the Department of Internal Medicine; Amal Al-Omari, Director of the Office of Scientific Affairs and Research at KHCC.

Photo 3: 
Right: Abdelghani Tbakhi, Chairman Department of Cell Therapy & Applied Genomics at KHCC visiting the labs in Heidelberg. Left: Olfat Ahmad, scientist at KHCC is currently taking part in the DKFZ's Clinician Scientist Program in Heidelberg.

Note on use of images related to press releases
Use is free of charge. The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) permits one-time use in the context of reporting about the topic covered in the press release. Images have to be cited as follows: "Sources: photo 1 and 2: King Hussein Cancer Foundation, KHCF, photo 3: U. Anspach/KiTZ".
Distribution of images to third parties is not permitted unless prior consent has been obtained from DKFZ's Press Office (phone: ++49-(0)6221 42 2854, E-mail: Any commercial use is prohibited.

The Hopp Children's Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ)
The "Hopp Children's Cancer Center Heidelberg" (KiTZ) is a joint institution of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg University Hospital and Heidelberg University. As the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), which focusses on adult oncology, the KiTZ is based on the US model of so-called "Comprehensive Cancer Centers" (CCC). As a therapy and research center for oncologic and hematologic diseases in children and adolescents, the KiTZ is committed to scientifically exploring the biology of childhood cancer and to closely linking promising research approaches with patient care- from diagnosis to treatment and aftercare. Children suffering from cancer, especially those with no established therapy options, are given an individual therapy plan in the KiTZ, which is created by interdisciplinary expert groups in so-called tumor boards. Many young patients can participate in clinical trials which ensures access to new therapy options. Thus, the KiTZ is a pioneering institution for transferring research knowledge from the laboratory to the clinic.
While the KiTZ focuses on pediatric oncology, the focus of the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), founded in 2004, is adult oncology. Both facilities in Heidelberg are based on the US model of so-called "Comprehensive Cancer Centers" (CCC).

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ)
The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,300 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful.
DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides individual answers to all questions about cancer for patients, the general public, and health care professionals.
Jointly with partners from Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ runs the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) located in Heidelberg and Dresden, and, also in Heidelberg, the Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ). In the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center at the NCT and DKTK sites is an important contribution to the endeavor of translating promising approaches from cancer research into the clinic in order to improve the chances of cancer patients.
DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

Heidelberg University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine: Internationally Renowned Patient Care, Research and Teaching
Heidelberg University Hospital (Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg, UKHD) is one of the largest and most prestigious medical centers in Germany. The Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University (Medizinische Fakultät Heidelberg, MFHD) belongs to the internationally renowned biomedical research institutions in Europe. Both institutions have the common goal of developing new therapies and implementing them rapidly for patients. Heidelberg University Hospital and the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University employs around 14.000 employees and is committed to providing trainings and qualifications. Every year, around 84,000 patients and more than 1.000.000 outpatient cases are treated in more than 50 clinical departments with almost 2000 beds.
Together with the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) and the German Cancer Aid, the UKHD established the first National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg. The goal is to provide care at the highest level as an oncology center of excellence and to rapidly transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the hospital. In addition, the UKHD operates in partnership with the DKFZ and the University of Heidelberg the Hopp Children's Cancer center Heidelberg (KiTZ), a unique and nationally known therapy and research center for oncological and hematological diseases in children and adolescents.
The Heidelberg Curriculum Medicinale (HeiCuMed) is one of the top medical training programs in Germany. Currently, there are about 4,000 future physicians studying in Heidelberg.


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