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Dr. Jonathan Finlay is more than the director of Neuro-Oncology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He is a world-renowned expert in the treatment of brain tumors. His research, clinical trials and comprehensive experience have helped establish a global treatment protocol for children battling brain cancer.
Since 1990, Dr. Finlay has led an innovative approach to brain tumor treatment, serving as principal investigator in a series of “Head Start” clinical trial protocols. The first three phases grew to include more than 40 institutions.
The new Head Start 4 study is coordinated and hosted by Nationwide Children’s National Experimental Therapeutics (NEXT) Consortium.
Through this collaborative research model, new cancer treatments developed here at Nationwide Children’s Hospital can more quickly be shared with hospitals across the country and around the world. This means children everywhere will have faster access to our discoveries and the most advanced cancer treatment possible.
The NEXT Consortium unites multiple research centers with the goal of expediting the most advanced treatments in the shortest timeframe possible in pediatric oncology, hematology and bone marrow transplant. Through this nation-wide effort, the goal is to contribute to the development of promising new therapies in pediatric disorders such as childhood cancer, blood disorders, stem cell therapies and other cellular therapies.
One of the first research initiatives to operate within the NEXT Consortium will be the Head Start 4 protocol. Head Start 4 is a tailored radiotherapy-avoiding approach to the treatment of newly diagnosed malignant central nervous system tumors of young children. For many children, the treatment of this type of cancer can have long-term negative impacts on their development and overall health. The goal of this particular initiative is to use a brief but intensive course of chemotherapy for these young children to both improve the cure rate and the quality of survival through minimizing long-term side effects.
“What we have found,” says Dr. Finlay, “is that you have to hit brain cancer in children hard and early. It has become clear that we can cure some children with malignant brain tumors through giving them ultra-high doses of chemotherapy followed by previously harvested bone marrow. And then *NOT* give them radiation therapy. What I tell families is that it is like getting a years worth of therapy in six days.”
Dr. Timothy Cripe is the Division Chief of Hematology, Oncology/BMT at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Cripe says Nationwide Children’s is dedicated to research and clinical trials, such as Head Start, that will help reduce or alleviate certain types of cancer therapy that can be devastating to children.
Dr. Cripe calls radiation therapy the most devastating sledgehammer that you could administer to a child. “While it’s very important in older people and it works for their cancer treatment protocol,” Dr. Cripe emphasized, “the side effects for a young, developing brain are very profound. So even if we cured the tumor, we may have devastated the patient due to the side effects of radiation. The question is can we substitute more intensive chemotherapy that doesn’t damage the brain but can still cure the tumor? This Head Start 4 protocol is one of many different ways we are testing to try and improve therapies for kids with brain cancer and cancer in general.”
Dr. Finlay says the resources at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are what drew him to the institution. “Nationwide Children’s is specifically designed to support multi-national, prospective therapeutic trials for children with cancer and blood disorders.” Dr. Finlay specifically highlighted the Institute of Genomic Medicine saying, “We are going to do whole genome sequencing on the blood and the tumor of those children and really address using the absolute, state of the art, best available studies.”
This will be the fourth sequential Head Start study conducted by Dr. Finlay during the past 25 years.