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Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center / Centers & Clinics

Pediatric Oncology

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Thoughts from Our Childhood Cancer Experts

Director of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program

Kenneth R. Cooke, MD., a man from modest origins who has achieved renown as a nationally recognized transplantation immunology expert, seems driven not by any particular role model, but by the challenges he faces in his highly specialized area of oncology.  

“What I love most is the complexity and intensity of care delivery,” says Dr. Cooke.

Clearly, the multiple obstacles inherent in providing optimal care for pediatric transplant patients—including finding a suitable donor match as well as staving off and treating potential and serious transplant-related complications—make the job both complex and intense.

Through tireless dedication, Dr. Cooke and his colleagues have reached a point at which bone marrow transplants have become both easier to match and safer for patients. Dr. Cooke credits his humble middle-class upbringing, supportive parents and standout high school football career with giving him a shot at higher education (he was the only one among his four siblings to attend college) and, ultimately, professional success.

Another factor that may help explain Dr. Cooke’s significant achievements? The fact that he seems not only unfazed, but rather energized, by the challenges confronting him as he strives to deliver optimal care for pediatric transplant patients.   

Dr. Cooke brings that energy to Hopkins from the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, where he formerly served as the director of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program. There, Dr. Cooke tripled the number of annual BMT procedures performed annually and established an experimental segment to the program that, formerly, had been primarily clinical. At Hopkins, he has been tasked with similar objectives.

Particularly appealing to Dr. Cooke as he considered a move to Johns Hopkins was the institution’s emphasis on translational research. “Hopkins combines fantastic clinical care with basic science research, and continues to promote the physician-scientist model. This is a place that continues to do bench to bedside work,” says Dr. Cooke. 

While embracing the model, Dr. Cooke explains that the bulk of his time is spent on research. “I have a keen emphasis on optimizing patient care through research protocols,” he says. “There’s excitement in trying to understand the physiology of bone transplant complications.”

But the most rewarding aspect of his work, says Dr. Cooke, comes directly from patients and their families—outcomes notwithstanding. “It’s a privilege and a pleasure to interface with people at their most vulnerable moments. Ultimately, it’s about the relationships that form.  “I tell trainees: Win, lose, or draw, you are going to leave a mark on the patients and families we touch…. just make sure it is a good mark” he says.

Herman and Walter Samuelson Professor of Cancer Research

Brothers Herman and Walter Samuelson were Baltimore natives who both attended high school at Baltimore City College and graduated from the University of Maryland Law School. Herman Samuelson was cofounder of the Jewish Convalescent Home and served for many years as an officer of its Board of Directors. He practiced law briefly and then joined with his brother to operate a successful real estate business. In 1995, through their estates, they created the Herman and Walter Samuelson Foundation, which in 1997 endowed a fellowship at Hopkins to support young investigators in pediatric oncology. The Foundation devotes its funds solely to religious, charitable, and educational purposes. In 1999, the Foundation's trustees–Louis F. Friedman, Robert I. Damie, and D. Sylvan Friedman–made a significant addition to their earlier gift in order to create the Samuelson professorship, with the intent of supporting the work of renowned clinician-scientists.

Kenneth Cooke, M.D., has played a key role in pioneering the safety of blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) for patients in need of this life-saving treatment. In 2008 he was inducted into the American Society for Clinical Investigation for his research of idiopathic pneumonia syndrome (IPS), which helped change the standard of care for patients facing this often fatal complication of BMT. Dr. Cooke recently joined the Hopkins faculty as director of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Program. He is a recipient of the Scholar in Clinical Research Award from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Burroughs Welcome Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research. His research remains focused on immune mechanisms responsible for lung injury and graft-vs.-host disease that can occur after BMT. He is particularly interested in the role of non-blood stem cells in regulating these disorders.