CURE Childhood Cancer’s 2012-2013 research initiatives total more than $1.7 million. These funds support projects which are focused on the most difficult to cure pediatric cancers and projects which are likely to have a clinical or therapeutic application within five years.
Two of CURE’s research grants went to Howard Katzenstein, M.D., Director, Clinical Research and Innovative Therapy Program at the Egleston Campus of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Health Care of Atlanta. A graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, Dr. Katzenstein found his passion for pediatrics while doing his residency at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“I always felt a connection to these children and their families, particularly those in oncology wards, and I often spent my free time with them during my on-call hours while I was a resident,” he continued. “I always felt connected to these children and their families…”
But for Dr. Katzenstein, it wasn’t enough to just treat pediatric cancer patients—-he wanted to learn from them, and beyond that, find a CURE.
Over the past several months and continuing in the new year, Dr. Katzenstein is working on two research initiatives which will bring us closer to that reality. The first project is funded by a $90,000 grant and involves making a metabolic assessment of pre-operation osteosarcoma tumor patients to determine future effectiveness of chemotherapy and odds of cancer re-occurrence.
Under current protocol, pediatric cancer patients with tumors are treated with a 12 week regimen of chemotherapy. After 12 weeks, patients receive a PET scan to determine the tumor’s growth or shrinkage and assess next steps.
However, 50% of tumors do not respond well to chemotherapy, and the 12 week wait is critical time lost in the battle against cancer. In Dr. Katzenstein’s study, patients receive a PET scan just four to five weeks into treatment, which gives doctors an idea of how and if tumors are responding to treatment much sooner than they would otherwise have as well as the ability to alter or intensify treatment accordingly. CURE’s funds are paying for the PET scans as they are not covered by medical insurance.
By determining chemotherapy’s effectiveness earlier in the process, physicians can alter treatment for patients who aren’t responding well—critical time gained in what can be a fast-moving disease. Once the study is completed, Dr. Katzenstein hopes the PET scan 4-5 weeks into treatment will become standard protocol in cancer treatment, a potential life-saving move for those 50% of patients who do not respond well to traditional doses of chemotherapy.
Dr. Katzenstein was also granted $85,000 to assess tumor response to treatment and establish evidence- based guidelines for optimal timing of surgery and chemotherapy treatments in pediatric cancer patients. Using existing clinical trial data from more than 150 institutions, Dr. Katzenstein and his team are developing a computer program to measure tumor volume pre and post-treatment.
Currently, cancer tumors are only measured by diameter (length). For example, a tumor could start out at 12 centimeters length-wise and end up 11.5 centimeters length-wise, but this is only one point of reference.
“Sometimes, the tumor doesn’t get smaller length- wise, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t shrunk, and significantly so,” said Dr. Katzenstein.
“When we start focusing on tumor volume, we can begin to make better treatment decisions and assessments based on the entire tumor, not just one of its measurements.”
“CURE’s funds are allowing us to run this test program on existing tumor samples, and we hope the resulting analysis will have a national impact on how tumors are measured and treated.”
If successful, Dr. Katzenstein’s analysis program will become the standard for all tumors, not just those of pediatric cancer patients.
“Not only does CURE play a direct role day-to-day lives of pediatric cancer patients here in Georgia— from the moment they walk through that hospital door—but they also directly support physicians and researchers like me who are on the front lines in the fight against cancer,” said Dr. Katzenstein.
“CURE’s support gets us all closer to find a goal for childhood cancer in our lifetime.”