UF leukemia researcher to lead children's oncology, hematology efforts

William Slayton, M.D.

William Slayton, M.D., a children’s oncologist and an associate professor of pediatrics in the University of Florida College of Medicine, has been named chief of the division of pediatric hematology and oncology after a nationwide search.

Slayton, who specializes in treating and studying high-risk forms of leukemia, has served as interim chief of the department of pediatrics division since 2008.

“I am really excited about being appointed chief here,” Slayton said. “I feel like we have an excellent opportunity to build on the strengths of our division. We have this rich scientific environment, and I think there is an opportunity to not only provide great care to our patients but also make discoveries that will help children in the future.”

Investigators in the department are focused on making discoveries in areas such as bone cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and blood disorders such as hemoglobinopathies and hemophilia. Slayton is also proud of the strides the division has made in recent years to improve the experiences of its patients and their families. The children’s cancer unit in Shands at UF has inpatient and outpatient areas next to each other, allowing for better communication. In addition, all of the services children need are housed in the same area so families don’t have to make their way all across the health center.

“Our unit is somewhat unique,” he said. “We have made it a one-stop shop.”

Prior to joining the UF faculty in 2002, Slayton served as an instructor at the University of Utah, where he had completed a research fellowship in pediatrics hematology and oncology focused on stem cell biology and leukemia. A 1992 graduate of the UF College of Medicine, Slayton completed his pediatrics residency as well as a clinical fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology at UF as well.

“We are delighted to appoint Dr. Slayton to this very important position within the department of pediatrics,” said Richard Bucciarelli, M.D., chairman of the department of pediatrics and the Nemours Eminent Scholar. “This appointment comes after an extensive national search indicating that Dr. Slayton indeed has the skills to run the division and mentor its faculty. As the interim chief, Dr. Slayton demonstrated time and time again that he is the right person for this responsibility.”

Slayton, the STOP! Children’s Cancer of Palm Beach County endowed chair, has spent his career looking for and studying more effective and safer therapies for children with leukemia. He has worked with the Children’s Oncology Group on clinical trials studying targeted chemotherapies for patients with acutelymphoblastic leukemia who have what is known as the Philadelphia chromosome, a mutation only found within leukemia cells.

Before the first trial, which tested a drug named imatinib, patients with the Philadelphia chromosome had poor outcomes with chemotherapy alone and oftenneeded bone marrow transplants. Patients receiving bone marrow transplants have a high risk of dying during transplant or developing lifelong problems such as sterility. The new form of therapy, which targets leukemia cells with the Philadelphia chromosome, has bumped the cure rate for patients receiving only chemotherapy from 20 percent to almost 80 percent.

Slayton, who was on the committee overseeing that trial, is now the study chair of atrial testing the next-generation drug, called dasatinib, targeted at this form of leukemia. At UF, Slayton and collaborators are looking for other compounds that could attack the cancer but inflict less damage on the rest of the body. Many chemotherapy drugs destroy healthy cells, causing problems such as severe arthritis, stroke and infections.

“The burden of the cure is pretty heavy in at least some of the cases, so we arelooking for ways to lessen that burden by discovering more targeted ways tocure these patients,” Slayton said.