The Phoenix Children’s Hospital Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders (CCBD) provides preeminent care for children in the region diagnosed with malignancies and blood diseases. The center’s new director, Dr. Mario Otto, plans to make it an international destination.
Raised in Germany, Otto completed medical school at the University of Tübingen before moving to Tennessee to pursue childhood cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Otto joins Phoenix Children’s from the University of Wisconsin, where he was a tenured faculty member and pediatric oncologist.
Otto is Phoenix Children’s new Doris S. Norton Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, and he says the endowment was a major factor that attracted him to join Phoenix Children’s.
“Endowments are the catalysts that advance clinical and research programs,” he says. “My endowed chair—as well as other endowments and philanthropic support for the hospital— demonstrate our community’s unwavering commitment to support our mission to improve survival and the quality of life for children with cancer and blood disorders.”
How would you describe your philosophy of care?
The diagnosis of cancer or a severe blood disorder is deeply upsetting and often overwhelming for patients and families. Parents particularly feel like their whole world has been turned upside down. Care for these families and affected children not only includes providing the best, expert medical care—it needs a comprehensive team approach to ensure families have all the help they need to get through the difficulties of treatment.
How do you build trust with your patients and their families?
The most important thing is to be honest, give them time to digest the diagnosis and provide hope. The vast majority of our patients diagnosed with cancer will be cured. I also leave space for the uncertainty—we know it’s not going to be a walk in the park. We need to be there for the family and answer questions, even if we don’t always have a definitive answer, or if things turn out in a way we did not expect.
What is your vision for CCBD moving forward?
We have ambitious plans to expand our treatment options to include world-class cancer immunotherapy and cellular therapy, targeted radiotherapy and precision medicine to maximize cure rates while minimizing side effects. We also want to further develop our bench-to-bedside research efforts to offer new treatments.
How can that research shape the future of pediatric care?
In the 1960s, the survival rate for kids with cancer was about 20%. Through lab research and clinical trials we can now cure about 80% of kids with cancer. That’s tremendous! And it’s because of research. That was actually my drive: to go into medicine and research to develop new cancer treatments. The CCBD will play an important part in finding cures for those children who still die from cancer, and help survivors live healthy, long lives.
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