|CANCER & TREATMENTS FOR CANCER CENTER PATIENTS PREVENTION & RISK ASSESSMENT CLINICAL TRIALS & RESEARCH LIVING WITH CANCER|
Finding Hope in Science
Phase 1 clinical trials offer options when standard treatment isn't a choice - con't
A Targeted ApproachTarnacki began participating in a Phase I trial in August. She continues to receive a drug that researchers hope will target cancer cells specifically. This approach to cancer treatment -- called targeted therapy -- differs from systemic therapies, like chemotherapy. Typically, chemotherapy drugs kill rapidly dividing cellsregardless of whether they're cancer.
The trial runs in eight-week increments; after the first eight weeks were finished, Tarnacki signed up for another round. Scans show no change in her cancer.
"This means a lot to my husband and my family and obviously to me," said Tarnacki, who served as director of religious education for her church before retiring. "To have a strand of hope is very, very important. I never realized how important it is. I can know the facts, but that blind hope is very important."
The Ravitz Center is unique in that it focuses solely on targeted therapies. In this approach to cancer treatment, researchers try to develop medications that interrupt the signals that cause cancer cells to reproduce.
Because targeted therapies are focused on cancer cells specifically, they tend to cause fewer side effects. Tarnacki said she has experienced only minor side effects related to changes in her blood sugar levels.
"Unfortunately, there are diseases like Dianas where there are no standard treatments," said David Smith, M.D., clinical director of the Ravitz Center. "One of the things we can offer in that situation is a clinical trial of a promising targeted therapy. These studies dont come with the typical side effects of standard chemotherapy -- which even though that's a more common therapy, is really a long shot for patients like Diana."
Conquering Cancer Through InnovationUltimately, the goal of the Ravitz Center is to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the clinic. In Phase I trials, patients with several types of cancer may participate in a single study. Once researchers determine the best dosage of a drug, they will use what they learn to help develop broader studies.
Phase II and III trials -- which study a therapy's effectiveness and involve larger numbers of patients -- are already conducted throughout the Cancer Center. The core difference is that the Ravitz Center will help to bring some of the most promising ideas from Cancer Center labs into the clinics.
The Cancer Center is a leader in the field of cancer stem cell research. Cancer stem cells are the small number of cells within a tumor that are capable of fueling the tumor's growth. These cells generally represent fewer than 5 percent of all cells in a tumor, but they are believed to be the cells that cause cancer to grow and spread.
Researchers believe more effective cancer treatments could be developed by finding ways to target and kill cancer stem cells. Eventually, these concepts may be tested in Phase I trials at the Ravitz Center, Talpaz said.
Regardless of which ideas the Ravitz Center is exploring through clinical trials, its doctors and staff always put patients and families first.
"We have new ways to provide our patients with access to cutting-edge treatments that we havent had before," Smith said. "But ultimately, our fundamental goal has never changed: We're here to take care of people. This gives us one more way to do that."
To find out if you may be a potential candidate for a trial, talk with your physician.
This article first appeared in the Winter, 2009 issue of Thrive. Read the magazine - opens as a .pdf document.