Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Research

The Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology is nationally distinguished for its design and conduct of NIH-funded multi-center clinical trials involving childhood cancer and blood disease.

Laboratory Research

Faculty are conducting molecular and cellular biology experiments in cancer and blood disease. Laboratory research efforts are both basic and translational studies that help to bridge the lab and clinical venues. Research is carried out in laboratories in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and also across the entire UT Southwestern Medical Center campus, including the NCI-designated Simmons Cancer Center and the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern.

Active areas of basic research include:

  • Using fruit fly and zebrafish models to understand the genetic defects causing rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and malignant germ cell tumor
  • Using complementary pre-clinical models to dissect the key “vulnerabilities” in rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and other soft tissue sarcomas
  • Understanding the molecular machinery by which normal cells can undergo “senescence” as a tumor suppressor mechanism in the presence of a cancer-causing oncogene
  • Identifying novel proteins that can be “targeted” as novel therapies in childhood cancer
  • Understanding how certain cancer-causing mutations influence the metabolism in childhood brain tumors and certain types of sarcoma
  • Uncovering how hematopoietic and embryonic stem cells are controlled and how these control mechanisms can go awry in cancer and blood disease
  • Elucidating the molecular machinery that guides erythrocyte development
  • Using novel model systems to elucidate the host and bacterial factors that cause invasive bacterial and fungal infections

Clinical Research

Physicians in the Division are engaged in a wide range of clinical research efforts spanning the cancer and blood disease programs. Clinical research efforts are supported by robust infrastructure provided by the Clinical Research Office (CRO) within the Gill Center and the Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern, the only NCI-designated cancer center in North Texas. At any point, 75 to 100 oncology trials and 20 to 30 hematology trials are open for enrollment for Gill Center patients.

Active areas of clinical research include:

  • Prospective clinical trials for children with cancer, conducted under the umbrella of the NCI-sponsored Children’s Oncology Group
  • Prospective, early-phase clinical trials for children with hematological malignancies, conducted as part of the Therapeutic Advances in Childhood Leukemia and Lymphoma (TACL) consortium and other academic and industry partners
  • Prospective therapeutic trials for children with sickle cell disease, iron deficiency anemia, and hemophilia
  • Investigator-initiated and industry-sponsored therapeutic studies of children with cancer and blood disease
  • Retrospective research studies investigating molecular and clinical factors influencing late effects in childhood cancer survivors
  • Prospective and retrospective studies assessing a variety of quality measures of children with chronic hematology disorders
  • Early phase clinical trials of immunotherapeutics for childhood cancer, including the use of CAR T-cells for childhood leukemia
  • Prospective and translational research trials in children with venous thrombosis

Research Funding

Clinical and laboratory research efforts are funded by a wide variety of national, regional and local organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Eye Institute, Cancer Research and Protection Institute of Texas, American Cancer Society, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Children’s Cancer Fund of Dallas, Children’s Medical Center Foundation, Wipe-Out Kids’ Cancer, the 1 Million for Anna Foundation, and Hyundai Hope on Wheels Foundation.

Research In The News

Good-guy bacteria may help cancer immunotherapies do their job

October 5, 2017 - Individuals with certain types of bacteria in their gut may be more likely to respond well to cancer immunotherapy, researchers at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center found in a study of patients with metastatic melanoma. Senior author, Dr. Andrew Koh, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology with the Simmons Cancer Center, found that the bacteria was able to prime the immune system to attack cancer cells and kill them. Read more

A therapy for leukemia that turns the human body into a ‘living drug’ awaits FDA approval 

Theodore Laetsch, M.D.

July 19, 2017 - A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel ushered in a new era for cancer treatment last week. The panel unanimously recommended the approval of the first treatment to fight acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a common blood cancer in children – with a patient’s own cells. For the past few years, researchers from around the world have been running clinical trials, where they genetically alter people’s T-cells, their immune cells, to attack and shut down leukemia in the body. UT Southwestern Medical Center was one of 13 research sites in the U.S. – in fact, one of the biggest. Dr. Theodore Laetsch is a pediatric oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health in Dallas. He was also one of the study’s lead investigators. Laetsch says this first-ever gene cancer therapy could be formally approved as early as this year. Read more about this study and listen to Dr. Laetsch's interview on KERA.

Researchers identify best treatment for iron deficiency anemia in children

June 13, 2017 Dr. George Buchanan and researchers in the Department of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified the most effective treatment approach for children diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia (IDA). Read more