In its 2022–23 Best Children’s Hospitals report, U.S. News & World Report ranked the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center as the top pediatric cancer program in the nation for the ninth year in a row. Since the ranking’s establishment, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s has received more #1 rankings than any other facility, consistently placing as one of the top three pediatric cancer centers in the nation.
With over 200 ongoing clinical trials, 125 stem cell transplants performed each year, and over 150 oncology and hematology specialists on staff, the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital is leading the way in precision medicine for pediatric cancer. Let’s take a closer look at where it all began.
What Is The Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center?
As two internationally recognized research and teaching institutions, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Boston Children’s Hospital came together in 1947, to provide world-class comprehensive care through The Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. This center is a collaboration that offers an integrated pediatric hematology and oncology program.
Also known as “Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s,” the center accepts patients from all over the world who need advanced medical care and specialized expertise for the treatment of pediatric cancer or blood disorders. Inpatient care and surgery are typically performed by the clinical staff of the Harvard Medical School affiliates at Boston Children’s Hospital, and outpatient care is typically performed at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Over 75 Years In the Fight Against Childhood Cancer
Dr. Sidney Farber, who founded the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation in 1947, knew that a world without pediatric cancer was within reach. The foundation is dedicated to providing compassionate and cutting-edge treatment to pediatric cancer patients. Treatments, preventive measures, and cures for the future are the focus of the foundation’s dedicated research. The determination of Dr. Farber has led to the development of chemotherapy and the first-ever remissions of childhood leukemia.
Today, the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center carries on Dr. Farber’s legacy through innovative research that has resulted in many of the advances in patient care that are used today.
Let’s take a Closer Look at the Program’s Major Milestones
1947 – Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the first malignancy to be successfully treated with chemotherapy thanks to Dr. Sidney Farber and his team of medical professionals and lab scientists. This is also the year that the Children’s Cancer Study Foundation (which later becomes the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) was established. This is the first pediatric cancer program to offer “complete treatment” in one location, including clinical care, nutrition, social work, counseling, and more. Modern cancer treatment facilities now follow this approach as the standard in care for both adult and pediatric patients.
1951 – The Jimmy Fund Building, which neighbors the Boston Children’s Hospital and is designated to treat childhood cancer patients is completed. Although surgery and inpatient care are still offered at Boston Children’s Hospital, pediatric cancer patients who need outpatient care can now be treated in the Jimmy Fund Building.
1955 –The first remissions in Wilms tumor, a prevalent kind of juvenile cancer that appears in the kidneys, are attained by Dr. Sidney Farber and colleagues. They increase cure rates from 40 to 85% by adding the antibiotic actinomycin D to surgery and radiation therapy.
1973 – The federal government designates the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation as a regional comprehensive cancer center. During this same year, Drs. Stephen Sallan and Emil Frei ll launch the first of many continuing clinical trials for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). These clinical trials, presently offered by the DFCI/ALL Consortium, significantly enhance care and contribute to the current cure rates of 85–90%. In addition, Drs. Ronald McCaffrey and David Baltimore identify terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase as a marker for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
1974 – The Children’s Cancer Research Foundation is renamed the Sidney Farber Cancer Center in recognition of its founder.
1978 – Dr. Stuart Orkin creates genetic testing called restriction endonuclease mapping to identify thalassemia (an inherited blood disorder that causes your body to have less hemoglobin than normal) in pregnant infants. The creation of prenatal testing for sickle cell anemia in 1982 is the result of a similar method.
1983 – In recognition of the financial assistance provided by the Charles A. Dana Foundation, the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute is renamed the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
1984 –Drs. David Nathan and Orah Platt find that hydroxyurea increases fetal hemoglobin. The discovery leads to the best therapy for sickle cell anemia that we have to date. Shortly following this, Dr. Orah Platt publishes the first in a string of groundbreaking research on growth and development, pain crises, and death in sickle cell anemia. In the same year, Dr. David William develops retroviral vectors for the introduction of genes into hematopoietic stem cells, a process that creates the foundation for what is now known as gene therapy.
1997 – Dr. Joanne Wolfe establishes the Children Advanced Care Team (PACT), a model program for pediatric palliative care that is still used today.
2006 – Dr. David Pellman identifies a group of genes that are therapeutic targets in hyperdiploid cancer cells since their deletion is only deadly in these cells.
2008 – A difficult-to-treat variant of acute lymphoblastic leukemia is brought on by a minor but significant epigenetic change, according to research conducted under the direction of Dr. Scott Armstrong. A mutation in the enzyme DOT1L causes aberrant chromosomal structural changes and the activation of usually silent genes.
2011 –Drs. Luigi Notarangelo, Sung-Yun Pai, and David Williams treat severe combined immunodeficiency, sometimes known as “Bubble Boy” syndrome, with gene therapy for the first time in the US.
2014 – Dr. Peter Manley’s research reveals that children who do not receive radiation therapy for low-grade gliomas have a higher chance of long-term survival.
2015- Dr. Lewis Silverman’s research reveals that prophylactic antibiotic use greatly lowers the risk of serious bacterial infections in kids during the crucial first month of acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment (ALL). Although there is a high overall cure rate for ALL, one to two percent of children with ALL pass away during the first month of treatment due to complications, particularly infections.
2016 – According to a study by Dr. Lisa Diller, children with high-risk neuroblastoma who received two autologous stem cell transplants had a higher chance of being cancer-free three years later than those who only received one transplant.
Family-Centered Care at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Center
Doctors at the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s center have more experience treating pediatric and young adult patients with cancer and blood disorders than any other center in New England, and most centers in the country as a whole. The center cares for over 5,000 children each year and while they are known for their scientific approach, their doctors never lose sight of the fact that your child isn’t just a patient, they are your child. The center specializes in cutting edge, family-centered care.
The center ensures that children feel as at ease as possible regardless of their care location. The campus includes family lounges, activity rooms, laundry facilities, and special resource rooms loaded with educational and entertaining activities in addition to welcoming and kid-friendly treatment rooms. Inpatient rooms even come with a bed for a parent, ensuring that those who are staying overnight never need to be left alone.
The center also offers patient and family support services as a part of their mission to provide care for the family as a unit and lessen the disruptions that a cancer or blood disorder diagnosis might bring. Because it is not uncommon for a child to miss school during treatment, the center offers programs that enable them to have fun and continue their intellectual development. These programs offer creative activities, music therapy, educational materials, and social events like pizza and movie nights, all so that patients and their families can get together and socialize with others who are facing similar difficulties.
I’ve had the privilege of serving as a governing trustee on the Board of Trustees at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since 2018 and was recently appointed as the chair of the trustee science committee of the Board. Between groundbreaking research and compassionate care, donor support is critical to the work performed in the fight against pediatric cancer. Help Dana-Farber save lives by visiting their donor fund page here.