Stars of Stanford Medicine

Tina Baggott, PhD


Pediatric Oncology 

Tina Baggott supports children and their families through the trials and tribulations of cancer treatments.

It takes a special kind of person to comfort parents after they’ve just heard the news that no one ever wants to hear — “Your child has cancer.”

Grief swallows these parents whole. Everything that mattered the day before is rendered meaningless. The way forward is unclear, and this is when Christina “Tina” Baggott, a clinical research nurse in pediatric oncology, steps in to help.

One of Tina’s most important jobs is to support the cancer patients and their families through this difficult life journey. She answers questions about treatment options, chemo side effects, pain management and, her specialty, cancer clinical trials.

A clinical trial is a controlled experiment that explores whether a medical treatment or device is safe and effective for humans. Before a child can participate in a clinical trial, Tina has to clearly explain the risks to the parents and their child. There are no guarantees that an experimental treatment will work. Or, if it’s a blinded trial that compares a new treatment with no treatment, the child may initially receive a placebo rather than the test therapy. Tina has to make sure the parents understand that volunteering for the trial will advance medical knowledge and help future cancer patients, but it might not cure their child’s cancer. 

After a child is enrolled in a trial, Tina manages the integrity of the medical data collected, compliance with research regulations and, above all, the safety of the patient. This might include gathering baseline statistics on the child’s health, filing regulatory paperwork, and scheduling required tests and services. 

One of Tina’s passions is to better understand and manage treatment side effects in cancer patients. She began this research as part of her PhD nursing program at UCSF. Now she’s working to refine a smartphone-based symptom diary that will make it easy for patients to track what medications they are taking and how they’re feeling, then wirelessly send this data back to the research team.

“There’s so much we don’t know about symptom management during cancer treatment,” said Tina. “Some kids sail right through it and others have a rough time. If we can get a handle on how the symptoms are changing day by day, along with genetic factors, I think we can identify trends and really improve the patients’ quality of life.”

Looking to the future, Tina thinks that the new “CAR-T” immunotherapy that many of the investigators with whom she’s working will be a game-changer in cancer treatment. With this type of therapy, researchers genetically modify a person’s own T-cells (the cells that seek out harmful microbes and cancer) to destroy cancer cells. She recently supported a leukemia clinical trial where T-cells were engineered to attack two different molecules on the surface of cancer cells rather than just one, and the initial results have been extremely promising. 

After this trial, she experienced what she says was one of the most “beautiful moments” in her career — when she was able to tell an 18-year-old girl who had struggled with failed leukemia treatments for years, that this new technology had put her cancer in remission.

To read more about this new cancer-fighting technology and one of her special patients, Salvador, read this issue of Stanford Medicine magazine. 

Story and photos by Kris Newby.