Sunday, September 27, 2015

Now It's Personal

The final piece of the puzzle is now in place. I’ve been writing about the promise of liquid biopsy in cancer detection and treatment for several months and specifically about Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) research being done at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) by Dr. Daniel Haber, Director of the MGH Cancer Center.  On Thursday, I met Dr. Haber to discuss his research, and now I am even more determined and excited to support his work.
Though the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) has supported Dr. Haber’s research since 2004, I had never personally met him.  NFCR support had helped lead to a $30 million strategic relationship with Johnson & Johnson to commercialize his CTC Chip, so I was obviously impressed by his work.  But because I have a personal mantra that “It’s about relationships”, it was important for me to meet Dr. Haber to solidify my commitment to raising funds to support his research. So let me tell you that I am equally impressed with Daniel Haber the man.  He is passionate about his work, committed to helping save lives, and he is also a really kind, humble, personable man. So I can represent that the funds we will raise to support his work will go to a man that all of us can embrace as sincere and committed to the same cause we all support – early detection and targeted treatment of cancer.
I’ve previously written that I love my work at NFCR because we invest in people. It’s not just the about the research – there are real people doing this important work, and I want donors to know about them.  Daniel Haber is the Director of one of the best cancer centers in the world.  He also has a laboratory in Charlestown, MA that does cutting edge cancer research.  His lab is doing research that can lead to earlier detection, and deliver more targeted treatment to cancer patients. As a cancer survivor, I can find no better research to support right now than the work of Dr. Daniel Haber.  It is about relationships - with my family, friends, donors, colleagues, strategic partners, and yes, researchers like Daniel Haber.  #DanHaberProject

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Heart is Broken - But I'm Determined

My heart is broken. Dave Bjork, Cancer Research Evangelist has had a tough week. My friend Stephen Muir passed away yesterday. He was 45 years old, never smoked, but died of stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. Wow. Diagnosed August 8th, died September 4th.  Wow.
I’ve been gearing up for a major fundraising effort this fall to support the research of Dr. Daniel Haber, the Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. The sad irony is that my friend Stephen’s story is so profoundly relevant to the research I am supporting. I feel like there is a reason and a purpose for my friendship with Stephen to make a difference in the work that I do at the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

Tumors change over time, often developing resistance to treatment. To remain effective, targeted therapies need to address these tumor changes as they occur. That requires constant monitoring of tumors, so that doctors can make appropriate adjustments to patients’ treatment plans.  My friend had the EGFR mutation, and there is a targeted therapy to treat this mutation, Tarceva.  But it was too late for him. And so much work remains to get to the point where we can diagnose cancer with a blood biopsy.  This is the whole point of Dr. Haber’sresearch.  We need to get to the place where we can go for an annual physical and through a simple blood draw determine if we have cancer. Or patients like me, can find out if our cancer has come back.

But we need to do the research first to get to that place where it’s really a diagnostic blood biopsy. I’m supporting a research project that will make a difference. Thanks to a new and exciting technology, it is now increasingly possible to collect genetic material from tumors—even whole tumor cells—during a routine blood draw, or a liquid biopsy. NFCR-supported scientist Daniel Haber
and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a new technology that allows clinicians to monitor tumor mutations as they occur, so that treatments can be altered to address those changes in tumor biology. The technology has the potential to radically change the way cancer is treated.

Dr. Haber and colleagues developed a credit-card-sized device, called CTC-iChip, that can be used to isolate minute CTCs collected via liquid biopsy and keep them viable to analyze their drug sensitivity. Testing CTCs derived from liquid biopsies could provide a rapid, noninvasive way to guide targeted therapy for individual patients. If a tumor acquires resistance to a first-line treatment, this drug-based monitoring may help to identify appropriate second-line therapy, better enabling that one-two punch that cancer treatment can require.

In the next phase of the research, Dr. Haber’s team will develop technology to enable culturing CTCs collected from blood samples from patients with metastatic lung cancer. Lung cancer is the No. 1 killer for both men and women in the United States, causing nearly 30% of all cancer deaths each year. CTCs, which are representative of multiple tumor lesions in patients, can be sampled repeatedly over the course of a patient’s treatment, with minimally invasive blood draws. The CTCs can be analyzed in the laboratory, both to watch for changes that may occur and to evaluate the effectiveness of different drugs or drug combinations. This step prevents the need to test drug regimens directly in humans.

Culturing CTCs from patients with lung cancer will likely generate a far more refined picture of tumor composition than past technologies have produced. In addition, focusing on genetically directed treatments will help researchers identify potential mechanisms of disease resistance and effective drug combinations. Results of this laboratory research would lay the groundwork for better designed clinical trials and eventually better targeted treatments.

The technology of liquid biopsy is poised on the cusp of truly enabling personalized medicine – not just for patients with lung cancer, but for patients with a wide variety of cancer types – without the need for painful, repeated biopsies. So, in honor of my friend Stephen Muir, I persevere and support amazing scientists like Daniel Haber.