Saving young lives twice is this study’s goal

SAN ANTONIO (July 17, 2014) — Two pediatric cancer researchers from San Antonio are launching a new study to learn more about predicting heart problems in adults who are survivors of childhood cancers.

“A third of long-term survivors have a life-threatening medical problem related to the treatment that saved them,” said Greg Aune, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and co-principal investigator on the study. Aune, a survivor of childhood cancer, ought to know. “You save someone’s life at 15 but they’re dead by the time they’re 50? You have a problem there.”

This survivorship issue is a relatively new one, as more and more children with cancer are successfully treated and are living to adulthood. The problem is that the treatments that save them often cause problems down the road.

Aune is a perfect example of this. Diagnosed as a teen with Hodgkin’s disease, he endured the treatments, recovered and went on to become a physician scientist. After coming to the Health Science Center to begin a fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology, the father of four was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis and coronary artery disease. Now heart problems caused by early cancer treatments are his primary focus in research and clinical care.

In his laboratory at Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute, Aune is working on a series of studies that examine the cardiac “late effects” that occur in pediatric mice exposed to chemotherapy. Then, in this study, Aune and principal investigator Helen Parsons, Ph.D., M.P.H., extend animal laboratory models directly to patients by enrolling survivors of childhood cancers to evaluate the diagnostic capabilities of cardiac MRI.

“We know that cancer survivors treated with certain drugs have a higher risk of heart problems,” said Dr. Parsons, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, “but we don’t yet understand the types of people who are more at risk, and we don’t know the best technology to detect these problems early.”

“Other studies suggest that cardiac MRI is a better tool than echocardiography, which is the current standard of care,” Dr. Parsons said, “but they had very low Hispanic participation.” Because South Texas has a unique population, she said, it gives the researchers a unique opportunity to see how to best care for this growing population of cancer survivors.

Patients will complete a health survey and get a survivorship exam that looks for symptoms of possible late effects of their cancer treatment. Then they will receive an echocardiogram – a technique that uses sound waves to evaluate the pumping capacity of the heart – followed by a cardiac MRI for comparison.

The researchers are hoping to enroll 30 participants in the study. Participants may qualify if they are 18 or older, are not pregnant, were diagnosed with cancer before 2009, were treated with certain chemotherapy drugs, and received their treatment at the UT Health Science Center, University Health System or Christus Santa Rosa. To learn more, interested people can call Dr. Parsons at (210) 567-0836.


The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit

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