Grant supports clinical trials for kids with cancer at three Chicago hospitals

Mary Lou Schmidt

Mary Lou Schmidt (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

The University of Illinois at Chicago and its hospital, UI Health, have received a $150,000 infrastructure grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to support the UI Health/Rush/Stroger Children’s Oncology Group cancer clinical trials program.

The group, led by UIC’s Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt, 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 $2.1 million from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation over the last ten years. The program can currently place patients in nearly 100 open clinical trials. These trials include front-line treatment for many types of childhood cancers, studies to determine the underlying biology of these diseases, and trials on new and emerging treatments, supportive care, and survivorship.

“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,” said Schmidt, professor of pediatrics and head of pediatric hematology and oncology in the UIC College of Medicine.

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 certain clinical trials that accept a wide age range of participants, 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 is 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 200 members of the international Children’s Oncology Group, which includes hospitals in the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. More than 90 percent of 14,000 children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States are cared for at Children’s Oncology Group member institutions.