As the new division director of the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and Blood Marrow Transplantation program in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama, my top priority is to build a well-rounded program; a program that is not only strong in its clinical mission – to provide the best treatment possible for children with cancer and blood diseases – but one that also has a strong research base, which includes clinical, basic and translational research.
We already have a strong clinical program with top-notch faculty providing outstanding care to our patients as well as strong research programs in the area of brain tumors, sickle cell disease and survivorship. I hope to build on the existing strengths of the program and add research programs in leukemia and sarcomas. Eventually, my hope is that these efforts will lead to providing more cutting-edge therapies for children with cancer and blood disorders in Alabama and the surrounding areas for decades to come.
Tremendous efforts are under way to advance the care of children of young adults with cancer and blood disorders at Children’s. Our Leukemia, Lymphoma and Histiocytosis program is developing immunotherapy treatments as well as targeted and risk-based treatments, which provide the optimal balance of improving care rates while minimizing treatment side effects.
Our Neuro-oncology program offers innovative clinical trials, initiated and conducted by our faculty, that are available for difficult to treat populations such as patients with relapsed/refractory disease, infants and young children, and children with neurofibromatosis. We have an active clinical/translational sarcoma program focused on utilizing genomic and kinomic data to generate personalized therapeutic strategies for each patient.
Also, in coordination with the medical oncology program at UAB, we are developing a program centered around adolescents and young adults with cancer, which has been deemed a clinical and research priority by the National Cancer Institute. In the hematology arena, we are enhancing the treatment of sickle cell pain through the creation of a sickle cell clinical program that provides traditional pain medication and other therapies, including virtual reality based relaxation techniques. In addition, we have developed a new thrombosis clinic to manage the over 100 cases of blood clots developed in children each year, and we are leading the advancement in hemophilia care by introducing a novel therapy that reduces the daily need for IV medications for children with bleeding disorders.
Over the last five decades, we have made significant strides in our fight against cancer. We are now able to cure approximately 80 percent of all childhood cancer patients compared to 10 percent in the 1960s. However, the therapies we use, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, sometimes have lasting side effects on our patients, especially young children. In the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of scientific techniques that have helped us understand the biology of these cancers and what makes them grow. In the next 10 years, I hope that we will have a shift in designing treatments that are directed specifically at the cancer cells and genetic derangements within them and spare normal organs and tissues, i.e. provide therapies that are more effective and less toxic.
For more information about our program, visit childrensal.org/cancer.
Girish Dhall, M.D., is the new division director of Hematology-Oncology and Blood Marrow Transplantation program in the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama. Dhall, formerly an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Neuro-oncology program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, moved to Birmingham in May.
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