WXXI AM News

Leukemia research expands at Golisano Children's Hospital

Jul 16, 2019

Researchers at Golisano Children’s Hospital have received new funding to study childhood cancer treatments.

Their work will focus on leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer.

Golisano Children's Hospital is expanding leukemia research under new grant funding.
Credit Golisano Children's Hospital

Craig Mullen, who heads the department at Golisano that studies childhood blood cancers, said current treatments are often effective at killing cancer cells, but they also kill healthy cells.

“You know, currently, in my career, I’ve cured cancer by being very skillful at administering poisons -- mostly DNA poisons,” Mullen said. “While they whack leukemia cells, they also really whack the patient.”

As a result, those treatments carry a long series of possible complications.

Mullen said 2% to 3% of patients who are cured of childhood leukemia will develop another cancer “as a direct result of their treatment.” 

In addition, “We have patients who have impaired fertility. We have patients who have neurological damage and have not had their brain fully develop. There are some patients who have developed early heart disease in early middle age and die a premature death,” said Mullen.

“It’s very exciting to be a pediatric oncologist because we cure so many people, but we hurt a lot of people on the way.”

Now, the hospital is expanding its research into new forms of treatment, funded by a $100,000 grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels.

The treatments now under study take a more targeted approach. Mullen called it “cell interrogation.”

“It’s basically asking questions of the individual cells,” Mullen said. “What exactly happens to you as they get cured. What exactly is this cell doing as a response to this treatment or this environment?”

“When I was in graduate school in the early ’80s, this was just science fiction,” he said.