St. Baldrick’s Grant Gives More Kids in Chicago Access to Clinical Trials

by Erinn Jessop, St. Baldrick's Foundation
November 3, 2016

Thanks to nearly a decade of St. Baldrick’s infrastructure grants, all kids treated at three of Chicago’s largest hospitals are getting access to the clinical trials they desperately need. Read on to see how this program YOU made possible is helping find cures for kids with cancer everywhere.

Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt with her patient, Isaac

Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt decorates pumpkins with her patient, Isaac, and his mom. Isaac is on a clinical trial that’s part of a unique tri-institutional clinical trial program supported by St. Baldrick’s.

Clinical trials can be options for kids with cancer who have no options left. They can mean better chances at long, healthy lives with fewer side effects. They are hope for a cure for kids with cancer today, and for kids in the future.

The gold standard of clinical trials are COG clinical trials. These are the trials offered through the Children’s Oncology Group, a massive consortium of more than 200 hospitals, universities, and cancer centers across the globe.

But before 2008, kids with cancer at Chicago’s John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital, formerly Cook County Hospital, didn’t have a chance at these trials, because there was no COG clinical trial program at the hospital — even though there were separate clinical trial programs at each of the hospitals right next door.

Pediatric oncologist Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt knew there must be a better way.

So, with the help of a St. Baldrick’s infrastructure grant, she helped start a new program that would unite Stroger Hospital with its two neighbors, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Rush University Medical Center, to create a tri-institutional clinical trials program.

How Research Saved Phineas
That means that instead of each hospital having to put together their own clinical trial research team — which can be tough or even impossible for a hospital with few resources — they would share one research team. They would also work through one review board and be able to share nurses, allowing them to open the most clinical trials to the most patients.

The program officially launched on August 1, 2008, after their first St. Baldrick’s infrastructure grant. What followed is astonishing.

Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt

“We really treasure our relationship with St. Baldrick’s,” Dr. Schmidt says.

Starting with no clinical trials at Stroger, just five at Rush, and 26 at UIC, the tri-institutional program now boasts close to 40 open clinical trials at each of those hospitals, with a whopping 660 enrolled patients.

“It allowed us to build one research team that can service three neighboring hospitals, which could open the broadest palette of clinical trials possible, such that any patient being cared for anywhere in these hospitals can be offered a COG clinical trial, if it’s appropriate,” Dr. Schmidt said.

Enrollment skyrocketed among adolescents and young adults, as well as other groups that are generally underrepresented in clinical trials, like black and Latino patients, and those who are underinsured.

But why does that matter? Because that data can help scientists advance research for all kids  with cancer.

“If you can enroll the patients on extremely well-designed, multi-institutional clinical trials through COG, then no matter what the results are, we will learn, and will improve care for everybody,” Dr. Schmidt said.

St. Baldrick’s was there from the very beginning. The first grant allowed the program to hire a clinical research associate who would support all three centers.

“I cannot imagine where we would be had they not invested in us,” Dr. Schmidt said.

Recently, Dr. Schmidt got word that St. Baldrick’s will be supporting the program again with a ninth infrastructure grant. She couldn’t be happier.

“We really treasure our relationship with St. Baldrick’s,” she said. “We don’t have a bigger supporter.”

Kids with cancer need your support. Get involved and help fund research for a cure.

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