Dr. Shah hugs Samantha Alvarez

Expanding reach

$3.7 million grant focuses on pediatric cancer patients throughout South Texas

Dr. Shah hugs Samantha Alvarez

Shafqat Shah, M.D., is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at the Health Science Center. She’s been treating 13-year-old Samantha Alvarez since she was 5, when she was diagnosed with an aggressive malignant brain tumor.

Hispanic children have the highest incidence of cancer and the poorest outcomes. This is an especially critical issue for San Antonio, a city with a population that is more than 63 percent Hispanic.

The National Cancer Institute has awarded a $3.7 million grant to pediatric oncologists at the Health Science Center to lead a consortium of regional providers in pediatric cancer research trials.

The grant is through the NCI’s Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP), and it designates the area as one of 12 minority/underserved community sites in the United States, and the only NCORP site in Texas.

“Because we are a majority-Hispanic city and have such a large Hispanic population in the area we serve, it is essential that our children be included on national trials,” said Gail Tomlinson, M.D., Ph.D., interim director of the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute at the Health Science Center.

The grant will focus on issues such as survivorship, the next big step in improving pediatric cancer care. It will also go toward cancer care delivery research, genetic counseling and support services, including consistent and accurate translation for families with language barriers.

Anne-Marie Langevin, M.D., professor and pediatric hematologist-oncologist at the Health Science Center and principal investigator on the grant, said the large scale of the grant and the area it covers means the best care is available to a larger number of families. The grant will target children in an area that extends throughout South Texas, from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin.

“We know that children, adolescents and young adults treated on clinical trials tend to do better,” she said. “With all the partners, we cover 90,000 square miles of Texas, and we offer families of children and young people with cancer access to a network of clinical trails.”

The other grant partners include San Antonio Military Medical Center, Methodist Children’s Hospital, Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin and Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.

The five-year grant replaces a federal pediatric cancer grant led by the Health Science Center for more than 23 years.

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