Ken’s Story: One patient’s role in the cancer treatment revolution

From Harvard Magazine:

Ken A “rapidly developing revolution in cancer treatment” has prompted David G. Nathan, M.D., president emeritus of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to detail three patients’ experiences in a forthcoming book, to help nonscientific readers understand the promise and pitfalls of this new research. In doing so, he also aims to clarify “three well-established principles of medical research”:

    • that the determination, positive outlook, and persistence of patients, their families, and their physicians strongly influence medical progress;
    • that most novel treatments are derived from an amalgam of basic research and clinical observations that may stretch over decades before a successful application can be made in patients; and
    • that the first effective treatments for a heretofore incurable disease are usually incomplete—they form the basis of the next steps.
    • One of the patients, Ken Garabadian, was afflicted by a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) that posed severe treatment challenges, and his struggle highlights a fundamental thread in this medical revolution. Nathan explains “the establishment of precise, DNA-based understanding of how a cancer grows; the description of the mutant proteins derived from abnormal cancer DNA; and the recent discovery of new ‘smart’ drugs such as Gleevec that interact chemically in very specific ways with those proteins and arrest tumor growth. Smart drugs were critical as Ken dealt with GIST—and the same tools will be essential for managing more common cancers, particularly those resistant to classic chemotherapy treatments.”

More here.