The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Alabama actively works toward the goal of a total cure through research and development of innovative therapies. More than a dozen prominent pediatric hematology, oncology and blood and bone marrow physician-scientists provide exceptional programs in patient care, education and research. Currently, the Center provides care or treatment for 90 percent of the pediatric hematology-oncology patients in the state.
Each year, more than 200 children in Alabama are diagnosed with cancer. In 2017, approximately 85 percent of children diagnosed with cancer will be cured of their disease with the use of treatment regimens developed in the last 25 years. For some forms of cancer, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, tumors of the eye and most common kidney cancers, cure is expected in 90 to 95 percent of children. However, in other forms of cancer, including some brain tumors and bone and muscle cancers that cannot be surgically removed, the cure rate remains too low and further innovation in treatment is necessary. Additional concerns include any cancer that recurs or relapses, and the necessity to understand and minimize the impact of childhood cancer treatment on quality of life after cure.
Progress in childhood cancer treatment requires ongoing research. University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric physician-scientists conduct basic and clinical research in diverse areas, including brain tumors, solid tumors, new therapy development, long term treatment complications and genetic basis of cancer in rare marrow failure syndromes. An oncolytic virotherapy clinical trial conducted by Gregory Friedman, M.D., and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration aims to improve outcomes for patients with malignant brain tumors using herpes simplex virus. The virus, which typically causes cold sores but has been genetically altered, targets gliomas and other types of aggressive brain tumors by killing cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact.
In addition, the Center, the UAB Division of Pediatric Surgery at Children’s and UAB researchers have developed the Xenograft Project, which takes samples of solid tumors – newly diagnosed and recurrent – and implants them in mice. This allows tumor samples to grow as investigators study drug resistance and possibly identify novel therapeutics for rare or recurrent cancers. More than 80 samples have been implanted thus far, making the Xenograft Project one of the largest programs of its kind in pediatric oncology.
The Center is a partnership among the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Children’s, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, the UAB Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship, along with childhood cancer research entities such as the National Cancer Institute and Children’s Oncology Group. With its eye to the future, the Center continues to meet essential goals, among them the Pediatric Developmental Therapeutics Program, part of a national consortium with preferred access to latest treatment options and clinical studies for the most resistant forms of cancer, and the Taking on Life After Cancer survivorship clinic, which has provided evaluation and education to more than 1,000 cancer survivors since its inception. Last but not least, the UAB Department of Genetics has teamed with the Center to develop a Cancer Predisposition Clinic led by Elizabeth Alva, M.D., MSPH. Increasing evidence points to genetic predisposition in children involving so-called cancer suppressor genes and cancer predisposition genes. A more detailed understanding of underlying genetic traits in childhood cancer families and patients offer hope for prevention or early identification programs.
To learn more about the Center, visit www.childrensal.org/cancer.
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