Monday, March 30, 2015

A Big Day for Duke Basketball and Duke Cancer Patients

As a graduate of Duke University’s undergraduate and medical schools, today, March 29, 2015, was a big day for me.

The Duke basketball team advanced to the Final Four with a 66-52 win over Gonzaga. On "Sixty Minutes" the CBS Sunday program, it was announced the Duke medical school may have achieved a cancer breakthrough in treating cancer.

I attended the undergraduate school on a combined basketball- academic scholarship. I played one year of freshman basketball. In those days, freshman and varsity basketball were separate. My only claim to fame as a basketball player was once scoring 16 points against North Carolina’s freshman team. I was not tall enough, fast enough, or skilled enough to make the varsity and was cut after one year. But Duke continued my scholarship for years and for that I will be everlastingly grateful. I spent four years at the medical school and did not have a particularly distinguished record, graduating in the middle of my class, but winning an essay contest sponsored by the Dean, Wilbur Davidson, and drawing a series of faculty cartoons for the medical school yearbook.

The news on the medical school‘s innovative war on cancer was breathtaking. By changing the infectious nature of the polio virus and injecting in a series of 22 patients with glioblastomas that had previously been treated with radiation and chemotherapy, Duke was able to achieve three cures and longer time survivals in a group of patients. Heretofore, glioblstoma was a death sentence, with patients rarely surviving for a year or more. The cure and longer survival times were explained this way. By changing the nature of the polio virus, researchers were able to make it non-infectious. Cancer cells in glioblastoma and other solid tumors have a protective surfaces that serve as protective shields against the body’s immune system. The polio virus, when injected in the center of solid tumors, strips away the shield, allowing the body’s immune system to attack the tumor, destroying it in some patients. The Duke team has worked for 7 years with the polio virus in a phase one study, testing its safety and determining the correct dose. If this aggressive immunotherapy continues to achieve cures and prolong survival without harm to patients, the Duke approach may be made available to a wider public (12,000 patients die of glioblastomas each year in the U.S. Studies at Duke have also shown the polio virus is effective with other solid tumors – lung, kidney, colon,and other cancers. If progress continues along this front, it will probably qualify for the Nobel Prize for the Duke research team.

No comments: