Hyundai Hope On Wheels Scholar to study more effective way to treat childhood sarcomas

September 08, 2014

By Patrick McGee

DALLAS (Sept. 8, 2014) – With the help of a $250,000 Hyundai Hope On Wheels grant, Dr. Ted Laetsch, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Center, wants to harness the power of ultrasound technology and use it to zero in on cancerous tumors in children.

Dr. Laetsch was named a Hyundai Scholar today at an event at Children’s. Several children, all of whom have been treated or are currently being treated in the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s, participated in a handprint ceremony, in which they decorated a white 2014 Hyundai Sonata with their colorfully painted hands.

Children’s Medical Center Foundation is one of 36 recipients in the U.S. to receive one of the Hyundai Scholar grants, a total of $9 million, which has been awarded in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Over the past 16 years, the nonprofit organization of Hyundai Motor America has distributed more than $87 million for pediatric cancer research.

Dr. Laetsch is working to develop a more effective way to treat sarcoma in children. Sarcomas of soft tissue and bone comprise 15 percent of all childhood cancers and can be treated effectively with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but relapses often result in poor outcomes, he said.

His focus is on using a revolutionary technology called magnetic resonance high-intensity focused ultrasound (MR-HIFU) to heat and deliver chemotherapy to tumors while sparing normal tissue in the body. Heating dilates blood vessels in the tumors, which allows more medicine to get into the bloodstream, he said.

Using MR-HIFU, tumors can be heated to about 107 degrees. Temperature-sensitive liposomes have been developed that melt when they encounter a heated region. One of these drugs called Thermodox, which is in clinical trials for adults, delivers the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin to tumors. Doxorubicin is known to be effective against most solid tumors, but without the ability to target it precisely to the tumor, it can damage the heart.

Dr. Laetsch’s trial will be a first for pediatric patients, and he hopes to begin treatments within the year.

“If you turn up the ultrasound, it can actually shake the tumor on a very, very small scale so much that it heats it up. It heats the tumor, and none of the surrounding tissue,” said Dr. Laetsch, who is an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

His innovative idea is a hallmark of Children’s tireless approach to finding new treatments for pediatric cancer.

“The ability to target chemotherapeutics to a patient’s tumor while sparing normal tissue would be a major clinical advance,” Dr. Laetsch said. “This is promising research for children with cancer. It is central to our mission at Children’s Medical Center, and it would not be possible without the grant from Hyundai Hope On Wheels.”

Hyundai Hope On Wheels has awarded Children’s pediatricians working in the Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders a total of $640,000 since 2011.


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