Dirty knees and frocks

Elizabeth Cooney in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette:

BildeThe personal and professional merge in Dr. Azra Raza’s life, sometimes painfully so.

Both a cancer researcher and a cancer doctor, she learned firsthand how vast a gulf there is between the laboratory and the patient when she felt “the infinite helplessness of being on the other side of the bed” when her husband, Dr. Harvey D. Preisler, died of the disease he had dedicated his life to curing.

He inspired her in life and in death to narrow that chasm between the promise of basic research and the reality of current cancer treatments. Chief of hematology/oncology at University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Raza believes the current convergence of basic research, scientific technology and clinical practice will lead to unparalleled progress in preventing, detecting and treating cancer.

Aps“This is the time when things are coming together for us,” she said. “Some of what we have been striving for for 20 years is finally materializing in terms of improved outcomes for patients. I never dreamt I would be able to see this day, when I would have patients sitting in my clinic saying, ‘Dr. Raza, I didn’t even know how badly I felt until I feel better.’ ”

How she arrived at that point began with her early curiosity about nature while growing up in Pakistan.

She remembers being 4 years old and crawling after ants, following them to their holes and getting bitten, upsetting her mother with her dirty knees and frocks…

“I grew up in a family in which the definition of a bum was anyone over 18 not going to medical school,” she joked.

Sughra2Her sister Dr. Sughra Raza, director of the women’s imaging program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, said that wasn’t quite true. Engineers were accepted, too, she said, but more important was the absolute equality between the sons and daughters.

More here (subscription required*).  [As most of you know, Azra Raza is a 3QD editor. I am extremely proud to say that she is also my sister, as is Sughra Raza, my equally accomplished youngest sister who is also mentioned above. Sughra is also normally a 3QD editor, but is on sabbatical at the moment.]

*If you don’t happen to have a subscription to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, click here, then click “open”.

Update: I just realized there’s more. In another story in the same paper:

Radhey Khanna felt he was almost out of time when he first met Dr. Azra Raza.

She gave him hope for the future; now he has pledged to do the same for her.

An electrical engineer turned real estate investor who lives in New Hampshire, Mr. Khanna has pledged $1 million to support Dr. Raza’s research on myelodysplastic syndrome, a disorder in which patients’ blood cell counts fall dangerously low. Many of them go on to develop leukemia.

Two and a half years ago, doctors told Mr. Khanna he had MDS but there was no treatment or cure. They thought he might be helped by a new drug once it was approved by federal drug regulators.

At the time he just felt fatigued, but his condition grew worse. Eventually he needed frequent blood transfusions and was unable to walk. Then he felt he could no longer wait.

“I was willing to spend any amount of money, I was willing to travel anywhere,” he said recently. “It’s a pretty sad situation when nobody can do anything at all.”

A friend who was a researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute mentioned that Dr. Raza had moved her MDS Center to UMass Memorial Medical Center from Chicago. Maybe she could help him get the drug, he suggested.

After their first meeting nine months ago, Dr. Raza was encouraging. While not able to get him the Revlimid he was waiting for, she did enroll him in an experimental trial using thalidomide, the drug that caused birth defects 50 years ago but has been revived to treat leprosy and multiple myeloma. Revlimid, still not approved, is an improved version of thalidomide, lacking its side effects but targeting a similar cellular process that goes awry in MDS.

The thalidomide treatment worked right away for Mr. Khanna, who turned 60 last month.

For more, click here, then click “open”.