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The Garron Family Cancer Centre's Research

The GFCC’s innovative, novel and collaborative research improves and transforms our understanding of how cancer arises and progresses, and how we diagnose, treat and care for children with cancer.

The clinical oncology program at SickKids is the largest and busiest in Canada, seeing a new cancer patient every single day. The Division of Haematology Oncology’s patient care services is organized into six sections: Bone Marrow Transplantation, Haematology, Leukemia/Lymphoma, Neuro-Oncology and Solid Tumor.

Between 2015 and 2020, the GFCC received over $2 million dollars from the SickKids Foundation to support the adjudication of 39 discovery grants, 3 functional genomics team grants, 13 clinical grants and 26 basic/translational grants. Currently, we have 73 cancer clinical trials running.

Patient referrals

SickKids is a major referral centre across the country for early phase trials conducted by childhood cancer clinical trials consortia such as the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the National Cancer Institute’s New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy (NANT), the Pacific Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Consortium (PBMTC), the Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (PNOC), Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium (PBTC), the Pediatric Cancer Immunotherpay Trials Network (PedCITN), and the Collaborative Network for Neuro-Oncology Clinical Trials (CONNECT).

If you are a patient of family member preparing for a visit to SickKids for oncology care, or are a healthcare provider looking to refer a patient to SickKids, please refer to the Division of Haematology/Oncology for more information.

Flagship programs

The KiCS Program is a collaborative and innovative program that brings together experts in oncology, pathology, bioinformatics, genetics, genomic research, and genetic counselling at SickKids to determine the genetic profiles of metastic and treatment resistant tumors. This program, led by Drs. David Malkin and Adam Shilien, is the foundation of the Precision Medicine Oncology initiative at SickKids, which aims to identify the best individualized treatment options for children with cancer.

KiCS also provides pathways to new therapeutic interventions based on tumour-specific genetic alterations in collaboration with PROFYLE.

Learn more about KiCS

We believe that every child and family affected by the devastation of a cancer diagnosis deserves timely access to the support they need to successfully navigate the journey ahead. Whether that be access to the best available medical care, information about resources needed to help with their journey, or help in dealing with the stress of a life-changing and life-threatening diagnosis.

As a commitment to that vision, we are supporting the Haematology/Oncology Psychosocial Program, led by Dr. Sarah Alexander, SickKids oncologist and clinical director of the Haematology/Oncology program, and Sonia Lucchetta, SickKids oncology social worker and Haematology/Oncology psychosocial program lead. This multi-faceted program strives to provide excellence in psychosocial care for all children and families affected by cancer and serious blood disorders. It’s divided into four key priorities: 

The Oncology Resource Navigation program 

Families reeling from the shock of a cancer diagnosis often need help navigating their new reality. Wading through a maze of appointments, clinic visits and hospital stays can be exhausting and traumatic. Few have the time or energy to seek out resources to help lighten the financial, emotional and psychological burdens related to their medical care. The Oncology Resource Navigation Program is there to help.  

Begun as a pilot program two years ago, it now sees more than 450 patient and family interactions per month and serves more than 300 new patients—ages 0 to 18—every year. The two-person team made up of a social worker and a child and youth worker assists families with everything from looking for accommodations to filling out mountains of paperwork to finding financial support for new and routine expenses like wigs, travel to hospital, daycare, groceries, and so much more.  

For particularly challenging cases, the team liaises with the larger Resource Navigation Service at the Hospital to access its vast support network and connects patients and families with specialized teams to address their mental health needs. This program has quickly become an indispensable part of the cancer care offered at the Garron Family Cancer Centre, helping to ease distress and smooth the treatment journey. 

Psychosocial Program Leadership 

Sonia Luchetta, SickKids social worker and program lead, has been integral in establishing well-attended interdisciplinary monthly team rounds, designing an invited speaker program, and being a source of team development, structure and guidance for the psychosocial program. Sonia’s expertise, commitment to excellence, and overall unwavering leadership have been critical to ensuring the overall success of the program. “It is a privilege to be the first interim Haem/Onc psychosocial lead,” Sonia explains. “Our group is comprised of experienced, compassionate and innovative practitioners. By coming together each month, we have been able to develop and implement creative programming for children and their families receiving care within our Division.” 

Collaborative Cancer Care

Cancer in children and adults is associated with enormous distress in both patients and their family members. SickKids and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre are both committed to family-based care, and are each recognized internationally for their excellence in the provision of paediatric and adult health care. Working together, the two institutions have piloted a new, integrated standard of psychosocial care for the patient and the entire family impacted by cancer diagnoses. Specifically, the joint program allows greater attention to the psychosocial needs of: adolescents and young adults with cancer aging-out of paediatric systems; caregivers of children and adolescents with cancer; and children of adults with cancer.  

Social Work Oncology Fellowship

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer at SickKids, the whole family needs support. From a cancer diagnosis through treatment and all the way to recovery, Shawna Markowitz, social worker and fellow in oncology at the GFCC, is there to for the family – helping them face the psychosocial impact of their illness. “I work with leukemia, lymphoma and histiocytosis patients – helping them cope, process new information, access resources, or and anything else that comes up,” Shawna explains. “You never know what the day will bring. I just adapt to their needs.”  

Shawna works as part of a wider team – collaborating with departments across the hospital – such as psychology, psychiatry, and Child Life services – to provide the best and most fulsome care possible to the whole family.  

Shawna also takes an active role in developing, organizing and running educational sessions and workshops. With COVID-19 protocols now in place, she has made a quick pivot to adapt these sessions online. For example, a 90-minute online sibling session will be running this year, providing new diagnosis information and coping strategies to siblings of patients from 6 through 18 years of age.  

Shawna’s role has become integral to the success of our patients. “We help families shift from a place of immobilizing fear to hope. Being a social worker is about encouraging patients and families to find the strength to cope with cancer.” This oncology fellowship role was so successful that Shawna has transitioned to a permanent staff position as a social worker for the department. 

The New Agent and Innovative Therapy Program (NAIT) at SickKids is supported in part by the GFCC, and is focused on providing access to new drugs and other treatments for childhood cancer patients.

Children from every province other than PEI have travelled to Toronto for two first-in-children clinical trials of precision cancer medicines.

PROFYLE is a trailblazing pan-Canadian program being conducted in partnership with the Terry Fox Research Institute, multiple childhood cancer foundations, and all 16 paediatric cancer programs across Canada.

PROFYLE and KiCS generate sequencing data from childhood cancers and match them with potentially life-saving targeted treatments that are already approved or are being studied in clinical trials. To date, over 419 cancer patients from SickKids, other centres in Ontario and Canada and internationally, have been enrolled in KiCS, with clinically relevant mutations found in almost 53% of cases.

Learn more about PROFYLE

Cancer research activites at the Research Institute

Cancer research activities at SickKids involve all seven of the Research Institute’s research programs, covering a comprehensive range of disciplines and interests. 

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Contact the GFCC

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