Children's cancer center receives top marks

June 23, 2022
a female doctor sits at a low table with a child in a playroom
Dr. Michelle Hudspeth was pleased to see the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the children's cancer program. Photo by Brennan Wesley

Cancer care for children at MUSC received top marks in a recent U.S. News and World Report ranking of children’s hospitals across the nation.

Michelle Hudspeth, M.D., division chief for pediatric hematology/oncology and medical director of the adult and pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, was thrilled as she delved into the details to see the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital attained the best cancer outcomes in the Southeast, a nine-state region that includes powerhouse cancer programs.

With almost 200 pediatric cancer programs in the United States, the comprehensive care team ranked No. 31 overall and was in the top 15 for outcomes.

“We work tirelessly to constantly improve the clinical care that we provide, and this national recognition reflects the expertise of the team,” she said.

Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., the director of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, praised the team, which, in addition to clinicians, also includes those who conduct research under the Hollings umbrella.

“I am so proud of the dedication and hard work shown by this entire team to care for our youngest cancer patients,” he said.

Hudspeth said the small group of six physicians collaborates to constantly innovate to care for children.

She highlighted the contributions of Jackie Kraveka, D.O., who cares for patients in addition to running a research lab dedicated to children’s cancer and national efforts focused on precision medicine.

Kraveka serves in a leading role in the nationwide Beat Childhood Cancer Research Consortium, including serving as vice-chair for a breakthrough study incorporating molecular profiling of the patient’s tumor at diagnosis.

She is also the national study chair for a clinical trial expected to open in the U.S. and Canada later this summer that will look at incorporating immunotherapy along with chemotherapy for children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Kraveka isn’t the only researcher at MUSC working on pediatric cancer.

Nancy Klauber-DeMore, M.D., specializes in breast cancer. But after one of her daughter’s friends was diagnosed with pediatric osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, she began to collaborate with a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine to study whether a novel antibody targeting the pro-angiogenic protein SFRP2, which she studied in breast cancer, could be effective in aggressive metastatic osteosarcoma.

In a paper published in 2021, she and her collaborators showed that SFRP2-targeted immunotherapy reduces the growth of metastatic osteosarcoma. Sadly, her daughter’s friend died in 2017, but Klauber-DeMore’s research continues to move toward clinical trials.

In addition, Jezabel Rodriguez Blanco, Ph.D., was recently awarded funding by the V Foundation for Cancer Research for her project studying the mechanisms that allow for pediatric brain tumor relapse.

In the clinic, Hudspeth said she would like to expand the precision medicine options, which genomically profile a patient’s tumor to identify a specific target.

“With that approach, we’ve been able to do some amazing things for children who had no other therapeutic options,” Hudspeth said.

“There are overall treatment recommendations, say, for sarcoma or neuroblastoma, but this is looking to additionally drill down to the patient level,” she explained.

She also pointed out that caring for children is different than treating adults in that treatments are approved for adults first and usually aren’t available in child-friendly formulations, like liquids. This means additional work is necessary to determine the best options for a child, to get it approved by insurance and then figure out the best way to deliver the medication.

But the efforts are worth it because of the patients, she said. With every patient, the team always keeps in mind how they would want their own family members to be treated, she said.

And that supportive mindset of the team shows in the rankings, she added.

“This is a team where we all have our individual areas of particular expertise, but all of us do all pediatric hematology and oncology,” she explained. “So, for instance, I am the transplant director, but I don’t just see transplant patients. I see patients with kidney tumors and lymphomas and sarcomas – we do it all.”