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Experimental Treatments Help Arkansas Children with Cancer Live Longer

September 12, 2016

Kathleen Neville, MD, MS, MBA, FAAP
Director, Experimental Therapeutics at Arkansas Children’s Hospital

Chief, Section of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology
Professor of Pediatrics, UAMS


They’re the hardest words most parents can ever imagine hearing: “Your child has cancer.”

Unfortunately, we deliver them all too often at Arkansas Children’s Hospital – about 100 times a year.

As a clinical pharmacologist who specializes in experimental therapeutics, I work with children who are battling the most difficult to treat cancers. Their parents have heard even more challenging words: “The cancer is back and it is likely not curable.”

These kids have leukemias, neuroblastoma, sarcomas and brain tumors. They need better therapies, but unfortunately, development of drugs lags far behind for childhood cancers.

Because these diseases are rarer, there is less evidence available for many treatments, meaning they’re less likely to be FDA-approved treatments. It’s a truly terrible situation.

That’s why we’re focusing on experimental therapeutics here at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. We want to find new options for families that don’t have anywhere else to turn. This underscores our commitment to creating healthier tomorrows for all kids.

By offering experimental therapeutic trials, the level of care for all cancer patients at Arkansas Children’s improves. Studies continue to show that safety, quality and research flourish in hospitals that offer these therapies.

What happens if we don’t? These children will either have to go out of state for treatment or go home on hospice care. Offering participation in trials of experimental agents gives patients and their families control over a dire situation and offers them hope for time and quality of life that can’t be found anywhere else in the state and in many cases, the region.

 It also helps families in that the answers we get from trials may help future children. At Arkansas Children’s Hospital, we currently have 10 clinical trials open, studying how those medications work for a number of childhood cancers.

Our aim when we started offering these trials in January was to enroll five patients in a year. We have already surpassed that goal, further underscoring how much kids need these treatments.

When the right child comes to us and needs a specific drug, what matters is that we have an appropriate trial to offer. Arkansas children will be able to receive care close to home through our experimental therapeutics program. We can also serve as a referral center for families from other states. Someday, we hope to expand this program by offering clinical trials for other rare disorders.

At Arkansas Children’s we’re trying as hard as we can to outrun cancer and with quality. Because the best words you can ever say to a parent are, “I’m happy to report, your child is cancer-free.”

 Dr. Neville is chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs.

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