Robin Williams, MD, MS, has her eyes on the horizon.
Williams is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, which means she helps treat young patients with pediatric cancers or other related conditions. Williams, who joined University of Minnesota Health in 2017, also conducts cancer research. Her dual role allows her to bring emerging cancer treatments, such as cellular therapy and immunotherapy to the patients she sees.
“There’s a lot on the horizon. We are taking cancer treatment beyond traditional chemotherapy, radiation and surgery,” Williams said.
We caught up with Williams to discuss her interest in pediatric cancer, the future of cancer treatment and her unique approach to patient care.
I’m one of those people who always wanted to be a doctor—even when I was very young. I was the kid who put ace bandages on my dolls.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I went to grad school, where I became involved in some very fascinating cancer research. That introduction sparked my interest in this field. During that time, I volunteered at a pediatric hospital—which was a very significant experience for me. The vast majority of kids I met in the hospital were there for chemotherapy or for other oncology issues. That connected me to pediatrics, and this disease process, instantly. When I started medical school, I knew early on what I wanted to do.
I grew up with a mom who was a people person and I think that’s just who I am, too. By virtue of being my mother’s daughter, I find it very easy to connect with families. I also feel personally driven to do everything I can to help these kids get and stay healthy. It’s always a very difficult time for families when children are initially diagnosed, but we often underestimate how resilient children can be. I find meaning in guiding families through those moments and giving them hope. During those times, we share so much together. For that reason, it’s easy to become very close with the families I see.
Though I’m passionate about patient care, I still wanted my career to include scientific research. I’m particularly interested in new cellular therapies for cancer—which includes emerging immunotherapies such as CAR T-cell therapy. I want to bring those therapies to kids and families I see—to ensure that they have access to the latest and most effective treatment options. University of Minnesota Health allows me to perform that type of research while also seeing patients at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Our pediatrics program is part of a larger network called the Children’s Oncology Group, an international network of pediatric cancer experts and researchers. Through that group we have greater access to innovative clinical trials for our patients. For that reason, I have helped bring some new immune modulating therapies to our patients that are not yet widely available. Many of the patients who receive these new options have already exhausted traditional treatment approaches, including chemotherapy. We have seen some promising results with some of the new therapies that we offer through clinical trials.
There’s a lot on the horizon. We are taking cancer treatment beyond traditional chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. I hope to take a leadership here in bringing those new options to our pediatric patients. It’s exciting to imagine the innovative therapy possibilities that may one day become the standard of care. What we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg.