A TEENAGER who survived childhood leukaemia thanks to a breakthrough clinical trial says the experience has inspired her to train as a nurse.

Katie Currie, from East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire, was just three when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and five when the disease relapsed in 2008.

At the time, the outcomes for children and young people whose disease had returned had barely changed in decades.

However, Katie became one of only 216 youngsters recruited internationally onto a life-changing trial, known as ALLR3, led by Manchester-based Professor Vaska Saha who was researching ways to improved treatments for patients facing leukaemia for a second time.

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His study was focused on a drug called mitoxantrone, which works by jamming a molecule in cancer cells responsible for untwisting DNA.

Blocking this process effectively ties the cell’s DNA up in knots so it is unable to grow and multiply.

It also works on cancer cells that have resisted previous treatment- even if they’re hidden among healthy cells.

Professor Saha's trial compared outcomes in patients given mitoxantrone versus the chemotherapy drug, idarubicin.

It found that nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of those given mitoxantrone had experienced no growth in their leukaemia over three years, compared to 36% of those on idarubicin.

The number of children still alive three years into the trial was also much higher among those given mitoxantrone.

The results were so compelling that the trial was halted early so that all the children given idarubicin could be switched onto mitoxantrone.

Professor Saha said: “A difference in outcomes like that had never been reported before.

“It took all of us by surprise.”

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Now aged 19 and still in remission, Katie is packing her bags this September to head off to her second year at Edinburgh Napier University where she is studying for a degree in child health nursing.

She said: “I am living proof that clinical trials work and feel proud I took part in a trial that helped change in a positive way how some childhood cancers are treated.

“I was so young when I was diagnosed that I don’t remember much from then, but I do remember being in hospital and I remember the nurses.

“It is surreal to think about what I went through then and how far I have come. Now I’m keen to do everything I can to put something back and help the NHS.”

Today, it is known that mitoxantrone can increase survival by more than 50% in children whose acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has come back after an initial round of treatment.

Around 330 people under 25 are diagnosed with some form of cancer in Scotland every year.

Katie, who lost the vision in one eye after developing Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis - inflammation of the retina - as a side effect of her leukaemia treatment, said she knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine and healthcare following her own ordeal.

She said: "I think that my own experience has really helped me with my understanding with patients.

“The course is three years long and then I can choose where I focus on. I am just so pleased to be able to do this after my experience and to give back for the help I had.”

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Her parents are hugely proud of everything she has achieved but they recall vividly the early years when the outlook seemed much bleaker.

Her father, Neil, said: “When Katie was first diagnosed and started treatment in Glasgow, we put our trust in the doctors at the hospital.

“We took it day by day, especially after she relapsed. When the cancer came back, you fear everything, but we spoke to the team about the trial and put complete faith in them.”

He added: “Katie has been through so much but she is resilient and so upbeat in all that she does. She just gets on with things and is so kind too.

“At an early age, she talked about being involved in medicine and we did ask if she was sure she wanted to go into that after all she had experienced, but she was adamant. 

“Thinking back to those days of Katie’s treatment and relapse when she was so young, it is just amazing to be here now and for her to be off to Edinburgh following her dreams.

"Back then, we put our faith in the research and everything that goes on behind the scenes.

"That has been incredible for us and for Katie, but we know there is more that still needs to be done to make treatments more effective and kinder too, so that there are less side-effects."

Mum, Siobhan, said: “We believed that, with the clinical trial Katie had the best chance of recovery.

"Without these trials, amazing new treatments may never be found. Mitoxantrone probably saved Katie’s life.”

Cancer Research UK spokeswoman in Scotland, Lisa Adams, said: “We’re grateful to Katie and her family for their support.

Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults- from the types of cancer to the impact of treatments and the long-term side effects survivors often experience.”