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What is Neuro-oncology?

Neuro-oncology is the study of cancer of the brain and spinal cord. The multidisciplinary neuro-oncology team at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital provides comprehensive and coordinated care for children with brain and spinal tumors. Our multidisciplinary approach includes clinical care, research into the newest and most innovative treatments, and procedures.

UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital offers the region’s only dedicated neuro-oncology program for children with central nervous system (CNS)-related diseases. Our highly specialized team of experts – doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, clinical researchers, Child Life specialists, and social workers – all work together to provide the best possible outcome for your child and family.

CNS-related diseases treated by our team include:

Brain and Spine Tumors

Pediatric brain and spine tumors are different from adult brain and spine tumors. Our team of specialists treats a variety of brain and spine tumors in children, both malignant and non-malignant, including: 

  • Astrocytoma (low grade, high grade, pilocytic and pilomyxoid astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma, glioblastoma
  • Choroid plexus tumors
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Embryonal tumors (medulloblastoma, primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET), atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT), pineoblastoma)
  • Ependymoma
  • Germ cell tumor
  • Glioma (optic nerve glioma, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), diffuse midline glioma,  and tectal glioma)
  • Meningioma

Neuroendocrine Tumors

Neuroendocrine tumors are most often found in the digestive system and the lung, but can occur anywhere neuroendocrine cells are found.  There are many different types of neuroendocrine tumors. More information about neuroendocrine tumors and research done about them.


Neuroblastoma is a rare childhood cancer that starts in young nerve cells. There are different stages of neuroblastoma in children and our specialists treat different stages of patients using different treatment plans.  Retinoblastoma – Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer of the retina and usually occurs in children under 3 years old. Retinoblastoma can be hereditary or non-hereditary. Retinoblastoma accounts for about 3 percent of all childhood cancers. UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital pediatric ophthalmology and neuro-oncology treats families from across the Midwest.  Our retinoblastoma team will coordinate your child’s care so family will have comprehensive visits each time. Your family will meet with all members of your child’s care team on one day, at one location, eliminating the need for scheduling several appointments with different specialists over multiple days. These coordinated discussions are focused on determining the best course of treatment for your child’s tumor.  

Schwannoma, neurofibroma and plexiform neurofibroma

What Treatments are Available?

Our neuro-oncology team at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is made up of highly trained and experienced pediatric specialists and nursing staff. Our team understands that each child’s cancer is different, and treatment for each child is different, too. 

Brain and Spine Tumors

Most brain and spine tumors need an initial surgery to remove a piece of the tumor.  Radiation therapy and chemotherapy will be considered based on the location and types of the tumor.  Once a diagnosis has been made, our pediatric brain tumor team will discuss treatment plans.  Different types of tumors require different treatment plans, or protocols.  

The Pediatric Brain Tumor Clinic at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is the first of its kind in Iowa and one of just a few in the United States. The clinic is multidisciplinary and collaborative-- specialists from a variety of areas come together to create a personalized treatment plan for every patient.

Neuroendocrine Tumors

The pediatric neuroendocrine cancer team at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital plays a key role in neuroendocrine cancer research at the University of Iowa and was an important factor in the university securing a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute. Our team conducts clinical trials of special imaging, called Gallium-DOTA PET (positron emission tomography) scans, as well as clinical trials for treatments of neuroendocrine tumors, neuroblastoma, and brain and spine tumors. 


Children diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma will require a specific therapy that was developed by our children’s cancer team. This treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue, immunotherapy, and differentiation therapy. Our team works with these treatment plans alongside your child and family. Some of our pediatric patients require the 131I-MIBG treatment program – a program offered by UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that is available at fewer than two dozen centers across the country.


Retinoblastoma treatment includes eye surgery, focal therapy, and, in many cases, chemotherapy. After the surgery, the tumor is evaluated to determine whether your child will require chemotherapy. Children with an aggressive retinoblastoma will likely require a chemotherapy treatment plan. Chemotherapy is delivered at our outpatient or inpatient chemotherapy infusion units, administered by chemotherapy certified nursing staff and doctors. Chemotherapy is coordinated with ophthalmology appointments, eliminating the need for several trips.  

Special Programs

Cancer mutation panel testing:  We know more than ever about genetic alterations in cancer. Neuro-oncology programs offer cancer mutation panel testing on your child cancer.  Please contact Mariko Sato, mariko-sato@uiowa.edu, for questions.

CNS tumor and neuroendocrine tumor tissue bank: Our neuro-oncology group is interested in research using tumor samples. After your consent is obtained, we will keep the tissue samples for a long term period so that our researcher could take advantage of learning from your child’s cancer.

MIBG treatment program: 131I MIBG treatment is a targeted treatment for children with neuroblastoma or a neuroendocrine tumor. Your child may qualify to participate in clinical trials using 131I MIBG treatment. Please contact MIBG treatment coordinator, Amber Reiten for more information.

Patient Stories

  • Jackson Tijerina

    Jackson Tijerina, portrait Jackson was born a seemingly healthy boy, but at 5 months old, he began vomiting daily and was not growing. Ongoing testing did not provide any conclusive answers, and by the time he was 5 years old, Jackson began having intense headaches. A brain scan eventually revealed pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare, cancerous brain tumor. Doctors were able to remove 90% of the tumor, and further scans revealed that Jackson had an aggressive form of the brain tumor. Read more

Locations and Contact

  • UI Stead Family Children's Hospital
    Level 11
    200 Hawkins Drive
    Iowa City, Iowa 52242
    • Monday through Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • 1-319-356-2229
    • 1-888-573-5437 (888 573 KIDS)
    • 1-319-356-1616 (Emergency)

Other Team Members


  • Leslie Bruch, MD
  • Karra Jones, MD, PhD
  • Patricia Kirby, MBBCh; Steven Moore, MD, PhD

Social worker

  • John Werner, SW