Stephen Skapek, M.D.
- Holder of the:
- Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research
Stephen X. Skapek, M.D., believes that caring for children with cancer requires both clinical and research excellence. As Chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology in UT Southwestern’s Department of Pediatrics, he settles for nothing less.
Childhood cancer is much less common than adult cancer, so when it comes to treating these illnesses, experience is essential. These children may need a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – much of which requires specialized expertise and close observation to make sure the kids, whose bodies are still growing and developing, suffer as few side effects and complications as possible.
Dr. Skapek leads one of the larger pediatric cancer programs in the United States, comprising some 25 faculty physicians who all have established and growing expertise in specific areas of childhood cancer and blood disorders.
“We can offer our patients and their families doctors who have significant expertise in their child’s particular illness,” Dr. Skapek says.
Most of these physicians care for their patients at Children’s Medical Center, in the Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, where Dr. Skapek serves as Medical Director. The UT Southwestern pediatric cancer program is also a major program in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center – one of fewer than 60 centers that are designated as Comprehensive Cancer Centers by the National Cancer Institute.
“Being part of the Simmons Cancer Center allows us to do research and to conduct clinical trials that improve the care that we provide,” Dr. Skapek says, noting that one of his main jobs as division chief is to support and strengthen the research that’s being done to unravel the problems of blood diseases and cancers in children and translate those discoveries into new therapies.
Soft-tissue sarcoma expert
A D Magazine Best Doctor, Dr. Skapek himself is also a physician scientist; both his clinical and research expertise is focused on children who have soft-tissue sarcoma, especially rhabdomyosarcoma, which is the most common soft-tissue sarcoma that children get.
His lab at UT Southwestern researches tumor suppressor genes in these types of cancers and investigates how soft-tissue sarcoma cells mimic aspects of developing muscle cells. Dr. Skapek also holds leadership positions in the NCI-supported Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest clinical research organization focused on childhood cancer.
One of the exciting areas that his division is developing is an experimental therapeutics program for early-stage clinical trials, which explores new treatments for children whose cancers relapse, or who have types of cancers that can’t be cured with existing treatments.
“In the last couple of years we’ve really amplified our capacity to offer new treatments, including immunotherapies, where we take immune-system cells out of a patient’s body and reprogram them to fight against cancer cells,” he says. UT Southwestern is one of only a handful of sites in the country to offer such treatments for childhood leukemia.
“I feel really honored and privileged to be able to do this work,” Dr. Skapek says. “I’m lucky to be working at one of the nation’s finest medical schools, in one of the larger childhood cancer programs, leading a team of great physicians and working with an even larger team of researchers across the whole UT Southwestern campus. I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life since I’ve come to UT Southwestern, but it’s been more satisfying than anything I’ve ever done before.”