September 18, 2023

Delivering cutting-edge pediatric cancer care with a personal approach

Aerial photo of a sandstone-colored children's hospital

To Dr. Christian Capitini, the strength of UW Health Kids’ pediatric cancer care comes from the ability to provide cutting edge treatment in a personalized way.

“At much larger facilities, the care can feel more depersonalized just by sheer volume,” said Capitini, a physician-researcher for UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center and chief of the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplant at the UW Department of Pediatrics. “So here, we’re able to tailor to each individual child’s needs and we’re also able to accommodate unique family situations.”

The American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison is ranked among the 50 best pediatric cancer hospitals in the U.S. according to U.S. News and World Report for 2023-2024. These rankings include comparisons of survival rates for leukemia-related cancer, programs for brain tumors and sarcomas, and bone marrow transplant services.

Capitini notes that frontline childhood cancer care is largely standardized, especially at centers that are part of the national Children’s Oncology Group to pool resources and clinical trial data. When that frontline standard of care is not working or the child’s cancer has returned, Capitini said American Family Children’s Hospital and Carbone Cancer Center’s expertise and resources are significant.

“That’s where having a hospital that offers innovative therapies really becomes important,” he said. “We offer different kinds of innovative therapies, ranging from personalized medicines that take into account specific genetic abnormalities in the tumor, to novel radiotherapies that are drugs that carry radioisotopes that are selectively taken up by tumors cells, to immunotherapies where we reprogram the immune system to recognize and fight the cancer.”

How that care is given also matters, especially for families who have to travel for care.

“We have an emphasis in doing a lot of work in facilities like our day treatment center, where we can give infusions of drugs and transfusions of blood products and go home the same day, and we also give some therapies in our outpatient clinics,” Capitini said. “We try as much as possible to keep our patients out of the hospital. Not all centers have that set-up, especially the outpatient support on-site.”

Capitini is one of several Carbone-affiliated researchers at UW working to innovate pediatric cancer treatment and survivorship. He praised the strong generosity of community donors, whose funding helps researchers pursue new ideas that would not initially receive government grants because there is not yet proof of concept.

“So that allows researchers to think outside the box,” he said. “We leverage the cancer center support to try ideas that are less developed but have a lot of potential.”

Carbone’s status as a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center also means that Carbone can initiate clinical trials of its own research as well as industry-sponsored studies of outside research.

“Carbone is often a site that companies go to have their drugs tested in a multi-center fashion,” he said. “Usually they do that at a limited number of sites in the U.S. and we’re typically invited to the table to do that because of our comprehensive cancer center status.”

Capitini added that Carbone’s stellar reputation in pediatric cancer research includes being part of St. Baldrick’s Empowering Pediatric Immunotherapies for Childhood Cancer (EPICC) Team, and national partnerships through the National Cancer Institute’s Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network as well as recognition for "team science” from the American Association for Cancer Research and Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer.