Grant supports cancer clinical trials for young patients at 3 area hospitals

Children’s Hospital University of Illinois of the UI Hospital & Health Sciences System has received a $100,000 infrastructure grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to support the UI Health/Rush/Stroger Children’s Oncology Group cancer clinical trials program.

Young woman gets her head shaved

A young woman gets her head shaved at a St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser at the Children’s Hospital University of Illinois.

The group, led by Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt, professor of pediatrics in the UIC College of Medicine, was formed in 2008 to ensure that any child or young adult being treated for cancer at any of the three institutions could be connected to clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.

The group has received more than $2 million from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation since 2006, prior to Stroger Hospital’s inclusion. The program can currently place patients in 50 open clinical trials.

“Without St. Baldrick’s dedication to our patients, we would not have been able to grow and develop and engage so many patients in Children’s Oncology Group research or enroll so many patients in clinical trials over the years,” Schmidt said.

Between 2002 and 2008, when Stroger joined the other two hospitals, 140 pediatric and young adult cancer patients were enrolled in clinical trials at UI Health and Rush. Since the addition of Stroger to firm the current Children’s Oncology Group, 625 patients have been included in the program’s clinical trials.

The participation of the three hospitals “ensures that more minority, adolescent and young adult patients become enrolled in the highest quality cancer clinical trials available,” Schmidt said, which will “help physicians and scientists better understand the whole cancer story, including genetic risks for diagnosis, treatment benefits and toxicities, survival rates and secondary cancers, and other effects that can develop years after treatment for a childhood cancer.”

Minority patients have historically been underrepresented in clinical trials and research because of lack of access.

Participants in trials also donate tumor cells and provide access to their medical records so researchers can learn from a broad and diverse patient population.

The UI Health/Rush/Stroger Children’s Oncology Group is unique in that the three hospitals treat patients of all ages. It can place older patients in clinical trials that accept participants from a wide age-range, such as trials for acute leukemia that enroll patients up to age 30 and sarcoma trials that enroll patients up to age 50.

“Improvements in survival rates for adolescents and young adults have lagged far behind the improvements seen for children younger than age 15,” Schmidt said.  “We play an important role in getting these ‘older’ patients into trials.”

In addition to enrolling patients in clinical trials, the group carries out the protocols of each trial, including treating patients, collecting and entering data for principal investigators, and managing administrative demands.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into following up each patient and making sure our measurements and data are collected in the format required by each different trial,” Schmidt said.

The UI Health/Rush/Stroger Clinical Oncology Group is one of 250 members of the international Children’s Oncology Group, which includes hospitals in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.


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