South Texas Pediatric Blood and Cancer Center: Serving South Texas’ Most Seriously Ill Children Through Cancer Care and Research

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Expert pediatric cancer physicians and researchers at UT Health San Antonio are working to improve the lives of children with cancer, both for today and tomorrow.

UT Health San Antonio, in partnership with University Health System, offers advanced care for children battling cancer through the South Texas Pediatric Blood and Cancer Center.

The team, led by Gail Tomlinson, MD, PhD, provides comprehensive care that addresses every aspect of cancer care, from refining treatment options through Phase I clinical trials for young patients whose cancers aren’t responding to other forms of treatment, to addressing the psychosocial aspects the diagnosis can have and counseling families who may have genetic factors that could indicate future cancer risks within the family.

One of the medications recently studied by the group was an immunotherapy drug called atezolizumab, which was used to treat former President Jimmy Carter’s melanoma. UT Health San Antonio is one of 10 consortium partners in the U.S. and Canada providing such trials through the Pediatric Oncology Experimental Therapeutic Investigators’ Consortium (POETIC). Anne-Marie Langevin, MD, leads these and other clinical trials.

Care of children with cancer does not stop when treatment ends, as more than 75 percent of survivors will experience at least one chronic health condition related to previous treatments and up to one-third are afflicted with a life-threatening condition. Gregory J. Aune, MD, PhD, of UT Health San Antonio’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute and the Department of Pediatrics, is a 27-year survivor of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma. Dr. Aune, is studying serious health problems, such as heart disease, among long-term survivors. His research includes clinical investigations with cancer survivors as well as laboratory investigations for which he has developed animal models of toxicity.

Allison Grimes, MD, is addressing the issue of further protecting cancer survivors from HPV-related second cancers. Cancer survivors are particularly vulnerable to these cancers. Her project will be supported by a $1 million grant from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Leanne Embry, PhD, a child psychologist, leads a National Institutes of Health-funded study looking at late effects on cognition that can result from intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Basic research discoveries make new therapies available. The Greehey Institute at UT Health San Antonio is the largest freestanding pediatric cancer research facility in Texas and one of the few research institutes worldwide devoted exclusively to childhood cancer. Led by Peter Houghton, PhD, the Greehey Institute is conducting a National Cancer Institute-funded program project grant in childhood sarcomas, tumors that grow in bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage and other anatomic features, such as nerves. The goal is to develop novel, more effective therapies for treating patients.

Thanks to a $5 million grant from CPRIT, the Greehey Institute is developing novel animal models of pediatric cancers. These models, which focus on Hispanic children in Texas, will enhance research in drug development and be made available freely to pediatric cancer researchers statewide and beyond. A separate $3.6 million CPRIT grant funds research to enhance computational biology that provides powerful statistical analyses to researchers studying pediatric cancers.

Myron Ignatius, PhD, of the Greehey Institute and Department of Molecular Medicine, has developed a genetic model of a type of soft tissue cancer called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma that generally occurs in children. The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund honored Dr. Ignatius in 2018 with a Young Investigator Award.

Lastly, developing new insights and disseminating knowledge by San Antonio clinicians and researchers does not stop within city boundaries. In early 2018, Chatchawin Assanasen, MD, of the pediatric oncology team, led a group of physicians, nurses, researchers and other specialists from both UT Health San Antonio and University Hospital to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Education was provided to groups who are developing programs in Vietnam, with plans to guide the Vietnamese in developing their own training programs in pediatric cancer.

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