Collaborative center aimed at treating, curing retinoblastoma

First center of its kind in Southwest; first in nation to offer gene therapy

HOUSTON – (March 25, 2009) – Doctors and researchers from four Texas Medical Center institutions have joined together in the fight against retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer of the eye.

The result of their collaboration is the Retinoblastoma Center of Houston, which includes experts from Texas Children’s Cancer Center, the Children’s Cancer Hospital at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Methodist Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.

Together these specialists will pioneer advancements in treating and curing retinoblastoma through ground-breaking research and the development of innovative therapies.

“By having top clinicians and researchers join forces, the Retinoblastoma Center of Houston will be able to deliver the highest quality patient care and conduct important research related to the diagnosis and treatment of retinoblastoma,” said Dr. Murali Chintagumpala, clinical co-director of the center, pediatric oncologist at Texas Children’s Cancer Center and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

Retinoblastoma Doctors

Retinoblastoma affects more than 300 infants and children in the United States each year and is the most common malignant tumor of the eye in children. Retinoblastoma is often curable, but may result in the loss of the eye.

“Since this cancer is so rare, it’s important for us to come together as a team to share our expertise and bring the best care to all retinoblastoma patients,” said Dr. Dan Gombos, clinical co-director of the center and associate professor of ophthalmology at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. “Our focus is not on each institution, but rather on what we can do collectively as a center for our young patients with retinoblastoma.”

The center will be the first of its kind in the southwest region of the United States and is the only one in the nation using gene therapy in clinical trials to treat and potentially find a cure for retinoblastoma. Patients will also have access to a special form of radiation called proton therapy, which helps to spare the healthy tissue around tumor areas and minimize the risk of secondary cancers. In addition, genetic testing will be part of the center, an important element because retinoblastoma is often hereditary.
Retinoblastoma is caused by a mutation in the retinoblastoma gene. The disease takes two forms – bilateral retinoblastoma, which affects both eyes and is often seen in infants and younger children; and unilateral retinoblastoma, which affects only one eye and generally occurs in older children.

“Retinoblastoma is a debilitating disease that attacks the most vulnerable infants and children,” said Dr. Patricia Chevez-Barrios, research co-director of the center and ocular pathologist at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute. “Our best treatments are not good enough because we often have to remove the child’s eye or give chemotherapy or radiation that can have harmful side effects in children. This center will accelerate research efforts that we hope will lead to a better cure.”

Other research co-directors of the Retinoblastoma Center of Houston are Dr. Richard Hurwitz, Texas Children’s Cancer Center and associate professor in BCM’s departments of pediatrics, ophthalmology, molecular and cellular biology and the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy; and Dr. Peter Zage, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Patients of the Retinoblastoma Center of Houston will be seen at Texas Children’s Cancer Center and at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center while the Methodist Hospital Research Institute will house the center’s tumor bank and conduct tissue diagnostic analysis.

The multidisciplinary center will allow doctors and scientists to meet regularly to discuss their patients and treatment and to coordinate research in a way that takes advantage of the unique expertise of all the doctors and researchers involved.

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