Children’s Cancer Institute

When Children’s Cancer Institute Chair Emeritus Dr. Michael Harris reflects on the evolution of the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack Meridian Health, it is the stories of patients that come to mind. “These children and families are the most courageous individuals,” says Dr. Harris. One patient in particular was Naomi Cohain. Naomi Cohain was a beautiful, artistic teenager who shared her joy and passion for life with those around her. At the age of fourteen, Naomi was diagnosed with bone cancer. Through her battle, art provided comfort and a means for Naomi to express herself.

Naomi's Requests

Before she died, Naomi had two requests. First, Naomi wanted to donate her organs. Because of her disease, it was only her gift of vision – her eyes – that she could share with someone else.

To her, this was the most worthwhile gift of all. Naomi’s second wish was for Dr. Harris. She said, “Promise me that you will never stop trying to cure 100% of the kids.” Dr. Harris has continued to fulfill that promise.

We are the ONLY hospital in New Jersey with a pediatric bone marrow transplant program.

We established the first ever childhood cancer survivor program in New Jersey.

Our patients have access to over 100 clinical trials.

A Historic Day

The pediatric cancer program at Hackensack University Medical Center officially began on June 29, 1987. This was a historic day because it meant that quality healthcare for kids with cancer would finally be available in New Jersey. Children would no longer need to travel to New York to receive treatment for their illness. In addition to the beginning of this new program, Hackensack University Medical Center was committed to having a significant pediatric presence. Today, there are nearly 50 pediatric specialties represented at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital and K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital. Essential psychosocial support services exist throughout the Children's Hospital. Additionally, with the inception of the Children's Cancer Institute, research would become more vital then, and even more so, now.

As our team continues to build a comprehensive program for children with cancer, research remains at the forefront. Just as Naomi wished, curing all children of cancer is the ultimate goal. In the meantime, Dr. Harris, shares, we must maximize the quality of life during treatment. "We never want a child to ask 'why did you cure me?'" shares Dr. Harris. "There is a price to pay for aggressive therapies that leave scars on children."

Childhood Cancer Remains the Largest Killer of Children

Although eighty percent of children are cured, childhood cancer remains the largest killer of children aside from accidents. Those who survive often face long-term side effects. The team at the Children's Cancer Institute strives to personalize treatment for our patients that targets the disease, not the body. Through research, we provide the most advanced, precision medicine and cutting edge therapies in an atmosphere conducive to healing.

Children's Cancer Institute Director Alfred Gillio, M.D. is passionate about the Children's Cancer Institute and its mission. "We need the support of our community, corporations, and foundations to continue to push the research further until we find a cure.

To see our patients cured, to see them lead happy and healthy lives after cancer and to see them come back as adults to visit with their own children, that is the ultimate joy.


It is the patients and families that continue to inspire Dr. Gillio and clinical team at the Children's Cancer Institute every day. "Tackle Kids Cancer allows us to provide extraordinary care.

We have been able to hire social workers and therapist to make this about the science and the patients. Funds are used wisely and are essential in creating new research and patient care opportunities for our patients. We want these kids to get back into their lives. We want them to not only survive the cancer but have a good life.