Conquer Cancer Researcher Dr. Jaime Libes Works to Improve Global Outcomes for Children With Cancer

Apr 24, 2020

As a global pediatric oncologist, Jaime Libes, MD, MPH, works to advance care for patients in the United States and abroad, including those living in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Using support from her 2017 Conquer Cancer Career Development Award (CDA), Dr. Libes develops and trains a team of passionate health care providers in Kenya to improve pediatric outcomes.

Through her CDA-supported project, “The Impact of Establishing a Pediatric Oncology Twinning Program in Nairobi, Kenya, on Patient Outcomes,” Dr. Libes established the health care provider training programs and is now studying their effectiveness on pediatric patient outcomes in Kenya—specifically, on-therapy mortality rates and the rate of treatment abandonment over time. The programs serve to enrich patient and provider education about treatment options, and the importance of adhering to prescribed therapies. Dr. Libes predicts this education and awareness will ultimately reduce mortality and treatment abandonment. 

The project builds on her 2014 Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award-supported study, “Standardization of Wilms Tumor Therapy to Increase Survival of Kenyan Patients.”

“Funding from [the CDA] has allowed trainees from Kenya to come to the United States, which has greatly strengthened bi-continental relationships, and has given [the Kenyan physicians] ideas on how to improve care [for] their own patients and families,” Dr. Libes said.

Breaking Down Barriers

While data collection is still underway, Dr. Libes anticipates breakthrough results for pediatric patients in Kenya, which could be adapted for other low-resource settings in the future. Barriers to care in LMICs often include late diagnoses, financial constraints leading to treatment abandonment, lack of available drugs, and inadequate medical education.

“I anticipate we will improve the survival rates of pediatric patients in LMICs by reducing treatment abandonment and on-therapy mortality rates,” Dr. Libes explained.

The training given to Kenyan health care providers is expected to improve caregiving and family education, encouraging more patients to follow through with prescribed therapies. As they shadow Dr. Libes and her team at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria/Children’s Hospital of Illinois, the trainees witness the personal joys of healing young patients.

“I have the privilege of getting to know amazing children, adolescents, and young adults who place their trust in me,” Dr. Libes reflected, recalling a late patient whose high school graduation was held in the hospital. In a speech, the graduate—who had been treated for sarcoma for 6 years—joked that they had shared so much, Dr. Libes even knew his Taco Bell order.

“After a tenuous month, I was so thankful that he was able to graduate and happy that I was able to hear that lighter moment. It showed the relationship we had formed,” she said, and added that it was “gratifying to know that he knew how much support he had, to know that he had a whole team of people pulling for him.”

Remembering this patient’s life empowers Dr. Libes to continue conquering cancer for patients everywhere. “As an oncologist,” she said, “it’s such an honor to be part of those moments.”

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