As a pediatric cancer clinician and laboratory researcher, Patrick Zweidler-McKay, M.D., Ph.D., has devoted his career to treating children with particularly difficult or relapsed forms of cancer. As section chief of Pediatric Leukemia and Lymphoma at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, he gives hope to families facing these diseases.
“Cancer can be devastating to families,” says Zweidler-McKay. “Especially when it strikes children. Although childhood cancer treatments have advanced over the years, more targeted therapies that attack cancer cells without harming normal cells are still desperately needed.”
To meet that need, Zweidler-McKay and his team are developing targeted therapies for children with cancers of the blood, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, T cell leukemia and lymphoma, and for neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that starts in the nervous system.
The research in Zweidler-McKay’s lab is focused on understanding various forms of cell-to-cell communication that contribute to the growth and survival of these types of childhood cancers.
“Some normal cells make factors that stimulate the growth of cancer cells,” he explains. “With new therapies, we can target some of these factors.”
Zweidler-McKay visited Congress last September during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to advocate for increased funding for pediatric cancer research and to voice support for “compassionate use” – the treatment of seriously ill children using new drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration when no other treatments are available.
“Treating childhood cancer patients is a lifelong commitment I made as a pediatric oncologist,” he says. “Across the board, the cure rate for all forms of childhood cancer is now 80%, compared to 10% in the 1950s. But for some forms of childhood cancer, and for nearly all children who relapse, the outlook is much worse. We have so much more to do for those children.”