The pediatric solid tumor program at Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is made up of experts from several specialties who work together to achieve one goal: provide the best care possible for patients with solid tumors.
“There are so many advances happening today in pediatric oncology,” Elizabeth Alva, MD, director of the program, said. “It’s helpful to create a niche in which you have a team that’s knowledgeable with good expertise in that area.”
The program is part of the Children’s hematology/oncology department. Alva is joined by fellow oncologists Jamie Aye, MD; Emily Johnston, MD; and Kimberly Whelan, MD. The team also includes advanced practice nurse practitioners and specialists from surgical oncology, orthopedic oncology, radiation oncology, palliative care and developmental therapeutics, as well as emotional support and psychosocial services.
One of the team’s objectives is to standardize care while still individualizing it. A key component of that is identifying the best clinical trials for their patients, something they do during their monthly “protocol” meetings. They also treat children with high-risk disease, such as neuroblastoma, with a comprehensive search of the literature to ensure everyone is up to date on the latest therapies and scientific findings, and then develop practice standards. “We’re making sure that we’re all focused on getting those patients the best care they can have,” Alva said.
The team also aims to increase participation in national consortiums of pediatric cancer centers to bring additional state-of-the-art care and innovative research to patients at Children’s. “Children’s and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are well recognized as a good center, but we want to continue to improve our national presence and our recognition as a top-notch program,” Alva said.
One area where that’s already happening is with the tumor xenograft project directed by Aye and pediatric surgeon Elizabeth A. Beierle, MD, in conjunction with others at UAB. Since the project’s inception in 2013, 175 patients have agreed to let the researchers implant their tumors into an animal model—a much more accurate way of studying these diseases. The goal is to better understand how the tumors behave and identify treatments that not only halt the cancer growth but have fewer side effects than current therapies.