Pediatric cancer symposium brings together leaders in field

The 12th Annual Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers Research Symposium gave faculty and trainees the opportunity to present their latest work but it was also noteworthy for bringing together the editors of the leading textbook on pediatric oncology. The symposium was held April 7 in the Texas Medical Center.

Dr. David Poplack and Dr. Philip Pizzo

Dr. David Poplack and Dr. Philip Pizzo

Now in its 7th edition, “Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology” is co-edited by Dr. David Poplack, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, and Dr. Philip Pizzo, former dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine and founding director of the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute.

Pizzo, whose career focus has been on the treatment of childhood cancer and infectious complications in children whose immune systems are compromised by diseases such as cancer and AIDS, was the keynote speaker at the symposium’s morning session. He offered a reflection on his career and, following his talk, participated in a question-and-answer session moderated by Poplack, who also is deputy director of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

The two completed residency training together at Children’s Hospital Boston and later fellowships at the National Cancer Institute. The first edition of their textbook was published in 1989, and a 2002 JAMA review of a later edition called it “[t]he single most important reference work for pediatric oncologists at all levels of training and experience.”

Pizzo recalled his upbringing in the Bronx with few role models and his realization that education was the path to a better life. He noted that he had a penchant for getting in trouble – such as leading the call to unionize faculty at the University of Rochester Medical School – but learned important lessons each step of his education and training and throughout his career.

He learned early on that medical school trainees learn as much from patients and from each other as they do from senior faculty, an important lesson for the trainees at the symposium. Pizzo said that he also discovered that so much in your career – and life – are the result of things that cannot be anticipated and that coincidence and persistence can lead to positive outcomes.

In his career, Pizzo said he adopted the policy that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. He spoke out about and acted on what he thought was right and dealt with the consequences. This included expressing his criticism to the media in the 1980s, when he was with the NCI, about the FDA’s failure to approve the anti-HIV drug AZT for children and encouraging then-President Reagan to hold a child with HIV – at a time when concerns about disease transmission were still misguided – which was captured in a photograph.

Later, he found that many of his mentors were older and didn’t understand the importance of “transitioning” to their postcareer lives. Pizzo vowed that he would not stay in his career too long and put a plan in place to pursue a Ph.D. in history, one of his personal areas of interest. Instead, he ended up founding the Distinguished Careers Institute at Stanford, which offers a yearlong program that focuses on helping people find enriching professional and personal opportunities with a social impact for their postretirement years.

Dr. Peggy Goodell, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and part of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, gave the afternoon keynote. The symposium also included a dozen oral research presentations and many more poster presentations.

Oral Presentation Winners:

  • 1st place, Ifigeneia Tzannou, instructor, Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Administration of most closely HLA-matched multivirus-specific T cells for the treatment of EBV, CMV, AdV, HHV-6 and BKV post allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • 2nd place, Jacob Junco, postdoctoral associate in pediatric oncology, Leukemogenesis in Down syndrome acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • 3rd place, Frank Lin, assistant professor of pediatrics – oncology, Diagnostically and therapeutically relevant alterations in rare pediatric CNS tumors revealed by integrated sequencing

Poster Presentation Winners:

  • 1st place, Paibel Aguayo-Hiraldo, clinical postdoctoral fellow in pediatric hematology/oncology, Adoptive T cell therapy for the prevention and treatment of parainfluenza virus 3 infections post allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • 2nd place, Vijetha Kumar, research assistant in pathology, Clinical validation of a next-generation target RNA sequencing assay for detection of fusion genes in pediatric and solid tumors
  • 3rd place, Arpad Szoor, postdoctoral associate in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, T cell activating mesenchymal stem cells as a biotherapeutic for HCC

The research symposium coordinating committee consisted of Dr. Monica Gramatges, Dr. Vivien Sheehan and Dr. Patricia Baxter, aided by Dr. Ernest Fruge along with administrators Robin Sample and Lisa Jefferson.