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Experimental Therapeutics Program offers hope for kids with recurring cancer

The Children’s Mercy Experimental Therapeutics Program merges the Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation with Clinical Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutic Innovation to design clinical trials for children whose cancer has returned or has not responded to traditional treatments.

The Experimental Therapeutics Research team includes four Oncology Physicians (Keith August, MD; Katherine Chastain, MD; Kevin Ginn, MD, and Jaszianne Tolbert, MD), all with specific areas of expertise including Solid Tumors, Leukemias, Lymphomas and Brain Tumors. In addition, the team has one nurse practitioner, four research coordinators and a social worker.

Dr. Tolbert, Director of the Experimental Therapeutics in Pediatric Cancer Program, said the program currently has 17 clinical trials underway and expects to open about five new clinical trials a year as the program gains momentum from referrals in the region.

“These are patients who have been treated for cancer but their disease has relapsed or just hasn’t responded to treatment,” Dr. Tolbert said. “So they are looking for that second chance at cure; they’re desperately seeking help because what has worked in others has not worked for them.”

Dr. Tolbert is fellowship-trained and board-certified in both Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Pediatric Clinical Pharmacology, a rare combination of specialties. Her interest was sparked during her Hem/Onc fellowship at Children's Mercy.

“I was in clinic one day and asked one of my mentors about two patients who had the same disease, but were responding differently to the same drug. He said, ‘You’re asking questions like a clinical pharmacologist; you should look into it more closely.’ So I did, fell in love with it, and found my niche in oncology.

“Experimental Therapeutics incorporates a lot of pediatric clinical pharmacology, because we are often using drugs that have never been used in children or in specific diseases,” Dr. Tolbert added. “We need a better understanding of how these drugs work in children, or if they’re even going to be effective in the diseases we are trying to treat.”

The Experimental Therapeutics Research team includes (from left): Katherine Chastain, MD, Director-Sarcoma Program; Amber Jenkins, MSc, CCRC, Clinical Trials Coordinator II; Chasity Runyan, CCRP, Clincal Trials Coordinator I; Jaszianne Tolbert, MD, Director-Experimental Therapeutics in Pediatric Cancer Program; Allison Rees, MSN, RN, CPNP-AC, Advanced Practice RN II; Keith August, MD, MS, Director-Leukemia & Lymphoma Program; Jami Wierson, RN, BSN, MBA, CCRC, Research Coordinator Manager, Division of Hem/Onc/BMT; (not pictured) Kevin Ginn, MD, Director-Pediatric Brain Tumor Program; and Caroline Gill, MSW, LMSW, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

The newly implemented Precision Medicine core of the Children's Mercy Experimental Therapeutics Program sets it apart from other programs. Investigator-initiated trials within the program will involve collaborations among Hem/Onc/BMT, Genomics, Clinical Pharmacology and the Drug Discovery, Delivery and Experimental Therapeutics program at KU focusing on accurate drug exposure for each individual patient as well as new drug developments.

The ability to design and conduct clinical trials with experimental therapeutics expertise and develop new drug treatments for patients through collaborations means cancer patients from our region can benefit from the latest innovations in research while staying close to home.

“We don’t want our kids to leave their support system of family and familiar surroundings, as this is an important part of their cancer treatment,” Dr. Tolbert said. “We have all of the pieces in place right here at Children's Mercy to execute these clinical trials, keeping our patients nearer their homes and places of comfort.”

Financial assistance is available for patient families that qualify for a clinical trial in the program, including travel/lodging expenses. Big Slick is one of the sources that make this support possible.

“It’s such an exciting program, because we can offer these children clinical trials and new therapies that may be life-saving for them,” Dr. Tolbert said.


Learn more about the Children’s Mercy Experimental Therapeutics Program.

Learn more about the Cancer Center at Children's Mercy.