HARMONIC research project: “Using a unique, large cohort, we want to analyse the long-term effects of radiation exposure in children”.

In June, the European project “HARMONIC” (“Health Effects of Cardiac Fluoroscopy and Modern Radiotherapy in Paediatrics”) was launched. A total of 24 partners from 13 countries are working in close exchange between research and medicine to investigate the long-term health consequences of radiological and radiotherapeutic procedures for children and adolescents. The scientists from the Medical Faculty of the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) and the University Hospital Essen are important and the only clinical partners from Germany. Their research project focuses on radiotherapy and dosimetry. In addition to the Clinic for Particle Therapy, the WPE is also responsible for the investigations.

Prof. Dr. Beate Timmermann, Director of the Clinic for Particle Therapy, Medical Director of the WPE and co-director of the HARMONIC radiotherapy work package, is convinced: “The increasing use of radiation – be it for the radiation treatment of tumours, for diagnostics or for interventional cardiology – has made a decisive contribution to improving the detection and treatment of children with cancer. As a result, the cure rates have risen significantly in recent decades. This makes it all the more important, however, that we learn more about the late effects of therapies, especially with a view to young patients. And this is exactly where HARMONIC comes in.”

As one of the largest European centres for paediatric radiooncology, the Clinic for Particle Therapy makes an elementary contribution to the planned establishment of a pan-European register within the framework of the European research project. Prof. Timmermann: “Using a unique, large cohort, we want to analyse the long-term effects of radiation exposure in children so that we can better assess the risk of possible secondary diseases in the future and, of course, avoid them as far as possible”. In addition to the development of later secondary tumours, these include hormonal dysfunctions, cardiovascular diseases and neurovascular diseases. In the “Dosimetry” priority area, the interdisciplinary research group is therefore also investigating the radiation exposure of the entire body as well as the relevant risk organs. “According to Prof. Timmermann, “This not only provides us with information on the possible development of secondary tumours, but also ultimately serves to optimise oncological treatment for paediatric patients in the future with the help of the data obtained”.

In general, HARMONIC focuses on two different but complementary patient groups: those who undergo modern radiation therapy, including proton therapy, also focus on children and adolescents who undergo interventional heart examinations with diagnostic radiation exposure. In this context, other project partners also analyse biomarkers, for example, which can be decisive for the selection of optimal diagnostics and therapy.

The project was funded by the Euratom Research and Training Programme 2014-2018 under Grant Agreement No 847707. The project will thus receive a total of almost seven million euros in funding from the European Commission under Horizon 2020. Of this total, approximately 1.3 million euros will be allocated to Essen University Medicine. HARMONIC starts in June 2019 and runs for five years.