May 31st, 2016

Clinical Trial Requires Courage

Cancer treatment is always a gamble:  Yet clinical trials, especially the early stage ones appear even bigger gambles for me.

I have written about the TIL (Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes) treatment in this blog as one of the most exciting immunotherapies, and then recently I have read the update of the lady who has participated in this trial.  Judy, who had a recurrence three years ago with three year life expectancy after 10 year remission, was the first breast cancer patient in this trial while this treatment has been used successfully in Melanoma and Lymphoma.

According to the newspaper  article, first a surgeon removed one of her cancer tumors and sliced into 24 pieces.  Then in the lab, the scientists observed how her TIL would attack the cancer. The TIL attacked 4 sliced out of 24, but those active TIL were increased to 80 billion!

So far I was very excited, but the next paragraph in the article scared the life out of me:  Before she received those 80 billion active TIL, she had to “kill off” her own white blood cells, which didn’t recognize cancer cells, by a huge dose of chemo.

White blood cells protect our body from all kinds of infections.  They are the major part of the immune system. I have run a fever, had pneumonia, UTI, ect, all because my immune system was knocked down by chemo. So if she had to make “the tank empty”, I wonder what kind of reactions or side effects she had experienced and for how long.  No wonder this trial requires the participants to be admitted to an ICU.

She endured this process and was discharged at the beginning of this year.  Seems like she was in bed for a while even after the discharge, but after 5 months, her cancer is “melted away” and she is enjoying her normal life getting back to so many activities though her doctor said it is still too early to conclude if the trial was successful and the observation is necessary to continue.

I, who am intimidated already learning the details of my pick of Poziotinib trial, am such a coward compared with Judy.  We can have better treatments because the clinical trials move the studies forward, but without brave participants  like Judy, the trials are not possible.  Cancer battle requires lots of courage, and I am grateful and respect those trial participants, who are willing to take the big risks.