Pediatric Cancer Researcher Recruited to Louisville, Bringing New Treatments for Deadly Childhood Cancers


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kenneth Lucas, M.D., has joined University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics as division chief of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation, and Kosair Children’s Hospital as Chief, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. Formerly a Pennsylvania State University researcher and pediatric cancer physician, Lucas brings with him the Phase 1 Trial of a vaccine to prevent recurrence of neuroblastoma and sarcoma, among the most common and deadly of all childhood cancers.

    The trial, which began at Penn State a year and one-half ago, is generating referrals from around the world. With Lucas’s appointment, The Addison Jo Blair Cancer Center at Kosair Children’s Hospital will be the primary site for this trial. Thus far, he has recruited about half the patients allowed for this study.

    “Having Dr. Lucas join our faculty and take over leadership of our pediatric cancer program is a step forward for the children with cancer in our community and a tribute to the acclaim our cancer specialists have already earned,” said Gerard P. Rabalais, M.D., chairman, University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics. “His innovative childhood cancer treatment will significantly advance our mission to bring new clinical pediatric knowledge to the bedside and provide excellent healthcare to the region’s children.”

    “Kosair Children’s Hospital’s cancer center is rated among the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Dr. Lucas’s new therapies could propel us to the very top of that list. Currently, there are only three or four centers nationwide doing pediatric cancer vaccine studies, so we are very excited to be able to add this treatment,” said Thomas D. Kmetz, division president, Women’s and Children’s Services, president, Kosair Children’s Hospital.

    Lucas replaces Salvatore Bertolone, M.D., who has been named University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics Chief Clinical Operations Officer. Bertolone will continue to see pediatric cancer patients in addition to overseeing the operations of the department’s 13 subspecialty practices.

    “With the addition of Dr. Lucas’s vaccine studies, we can offer children in Kentucky and beyond a new way to treat cancer, potentially boosting a child’s immune response to attack cancer cells. Now children with cancer from Kentucky can receive the latest state-of-the-art care in their own community, where they can rely on family members and friends at a very turbulent time,” Bertolone noted.

    Phase 1 Clinical Trial: Decitabine and Vaccine Therapy for Relapsed Neuroblastoma and Sarcoma

    This leading edge therapy combines two techniques. First, the patient’s blood is collected and separated so that a vaccine against specific cancer proteins can be grown. It takes about a month to grow the vaccine.

    The child is then given a low dose of chemotherapy—which causes the body to produce more of the targeted cancer proteins—and vaccinated with the protein-specific serum. The vaccine prompts the child’s own immune system to attack and kill the cancer proteins and tumor cells. The treatment typically takes four months to complete.

    “When these cancers recur, children have a very poor prognosis. Their chances of survival are less than two percent,” Lucas said. “We hope that using the child’s own immune system will be a safe, effective way to kill tumor cells and keep the cancer from resurfacing again.”

    Lucas began his career investigating ways to combat Epstein-Barr and Cytomegalovirus infections in bone marrow transplant patients. After his team found a way to use patients’ immune systems to fight these infections, they turned to cancer, using strategies they had learned about immunology in the immune-compromised zones of bone marrow transplant patients.

    Lucas developed his research in stem cell transplantation and immunotherapy for cancer and post-transplant infections during his fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He received his medical degree in 1989 at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse and completed his pediatrics residency in 1992 at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Before joining the University of Louisville, he was the director of the Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Program at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.