William Slayton, MD

Cures without a cost

Leukemia is one of the most curable forms of cancer, but for children who have it, the side effects of treatment often pose a heavy burden.

Many drugs involved in chemotherapy destroy healthy cells, causing problems such as arthritis, stroke and deadly infections, says UF pediatric oncologist William Slayton, M.D.

At the UF Shands Cancer Center, Slayton and collaborators are looking for other compounds that could be targeted therapies, which attack the cancer but inflict less damage on the rest of the body.

“The burden of the cure is pretty heavy in at least some of the cases, so we are looking for ways to lessen that burden by discovering more targeted ways to cure these patients,” Slayton said.

Slayton, who specializes in treating and studying high-risk forms of leukemia, was recently named chief of the division of hematology and oncology in the College of Medicine department of pediatrics. He has served as interim chief of the division since 2008.

“I am really excited about being appointed chief here,” Slayton said. “I feel like we have an excellent opportunity to build on the strengths of our division. We have this rich scientific environment, and I think there is an opportunity to not only provide great care to our patents but also make discoveries that will help children in the future.”

 Targeted treatments

Slayton has spent his career looking for and studying safer therapies for children with leukemia. He has worked with the Children’s Oncology Group on clinical trials studying targeted chemotherapies for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who have the Philadelphia chromosome, a mutation found within leukemia cells. Because of these trials, the cure rate for these patients receiving chemotherapy has jumped from 20 percent to 80 percent.

Investigators in the department are focused on making discoveries in areas such as bone cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and blood disorders such as hemophilia. Slayton is also proud of the strides the division has made in recent years to improve the experiences of its patients and their families.

“Our unit is somewhat unique,” he said. “We have made it a one-stop shop.”

— April Frawley Birdwell

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Summer 2011

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