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How We’re Working to Cure Multiple Myeloma

Over the past ten years, I have seen the treatment of multiple myeloma dramatically improve because of new drug therapies that have come out of clinical trials. I am now leading a clinical study to learn more about the genetic components of multiple myeloma and how we can use that knowledge to come up with better, more targeted drugs and individualized therapies for patients. I think this landmark study will lead to treatments that effect long-term remission, or even cure, from the cancer.

In the CoMMpass study, launched by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, we will follow 1,000 newly diagnosed patients with multiple myeloma over the course of eight years. We will study the genomic changes in their disease while they receive frontline treatments, and continue studying those changes through remission stages or relapse. One of the questions we hope to answer is why some patients do well on a specific drug, while others do not and may need multiple drugs to keep their myeloma from advancing.

The first step in the study is mapping out the molecular characterization of a patient’s tumor using sequencing at the time of initial diagnosis, and then following what happens in the sequencing information during and after treatment. If the disease comes back, we want to know if there were changes in the disease or new mutations that were influenced by the therapy or by the original mutations themselves?

As we learn more about cancer and its various types, we do less lumping them together and more splitting them into individual diseases. Lymphoma is a good example. It used to be that the disease was characterized as six or seven different types, and now we know there are at least 50 different variations of lymphoma. We look at the molecular characterization of lymphoma and create subtypes that are potentially treated in different ways. We may need to do that in myeloma. In the CoMMpass study, we will be able to have individual tumor specimens molecularly sequenced, which has never been done before, and we will learn much more about the cancer and its number of subtypes.

We are also looking at the impact of side effects on quality of life issues in this trial. There may be molecular characteristics of a patient’s tumor that can tell us whether that patient will have side effects from a specific treatment, so mapping a patient’s molecular subtype might influence the type of drugs he gets.

We have seen the life expectancy of multiple myeloma patients double in the last ten years. I think that there are probably some patients we are curing now and I believe that CoMMpass will help us to identify the best drugs and the best targets to increase the cure rate in this disease. We hope this study will help push the barrier to cure even further, but do it in a way that does not compromise a patient’s quality of life.

To learn more, watch this video as Dr. Lonial further explains Multiple Myeloma and treatment options for the diease.

Multiple Myeloma Online Chat

Multiple Myeloma Chat Sign UpWant to learn more about multiple myeloma? Join expert physician, Jonathan Kaufman, MD, for a live web chat on March 11, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST. Dr. Kaufman will be there to answers all your questions about known risks, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma. Bring your questions and prepare for a great discussion!

Multiple Myeloma Chat Sign Up

About Dr. Sagar Lonial

Dr. Sagar LonialDr. Lonial is Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, and Director of the Translational Research for the B-Cell Malignancy Program. He is also a professor in the Emory University School of Medicine.

Dr. Lonial’s research focuses on combination therapy in B-cell malignancies focusing on myeloma. He is a trained bone marrow transplant physician with an interest in molecular therapy for lymphoma and myeloma. His clinical interests include evaluating the combination of new molecular targeted agents for B-cell tumors as well as target discovery and validation.

Dr. Lonial has authored or coauthored over 200 publications and recently was awarded the Celgene ‘Young Investigator’ Award, the MMRF ‘Top 15 Innovator’ Award, and the MMRC ‘Center of the Year’ award.

He earned his medical degree from the University Of Louisville School Of Medicine. He completed his internship and residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, followed by a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Related Links
Understanding Multiple Myeloma
Phase I Trials – Where All Anticancer Drugs Begin

 

Understanding Multiple Myeloma

While still a relatively uncommon cancer, multiple myeloma has recently received attention surrounding the diagnosis of popular news reporter, Tom Brokaw. This year, an estimated 24,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and there are about 77,600 people now living with this blood cancer.

About Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that forms because of a disorder in the plasma cells, which live in the bone marrow and are the producers of antibodies. These antibodies are what provide protection from infections after vaccination, but in myeloma, the plasma cells become malignant and grow out of control, crowding out the normal bone marrow.

When plasma cells grow uncontrolled by the normal immune system, the consequences can include:

  • Anemia, a condition caused by low red blood cell counts due to crowding in the bone marrow.
  • Bone lesions, as myeloma cells like to create “holes” in the bones.
  • Kidney problems, because the antibodies produced by the plasma cells can clog up the kidneys.
  • Elevated blood calcium level, typically as a consequence of the bone issues.

Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

The most common symptoms for patients are typically fatigue, weakness, bone pain, anemia, or frequent unexplained infections. Multiple myeloma affects both men and women but is more common in men and there is a higher occurrence of multiple myeloma among African Americans than among Caucasians.  It is a disease typically seen in patients who are older than age 65, although it occurs in African-American patients about ten years earlier, and it affects a fair number of younger patients.

Multiple Myeloma Treatment

Treatment for patients with multiple myeloma has changed dramatically over the past decade. As we have developed more effective drugs to target the plasma cells, we also have significantly improved overall survival. Fifteen years ago, the average survival was 3 to 4 years, whereas the average survival is now over 7 years, and for many patients, expected survival is more than 10 years.

The keys to this improvement in overall survival are related to several factors. First, we have better tools to combat myeloma. There have been 6 new drugs approved for treating myeloma over the past decade, and these agents are more effective at treating the disease than the standard mixtures of chemotherapy we had before. The second factor that has improved survival for certain patients is the use of high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation, in which the patient’s own stem cells are given back to the patient’s body after receiving high-dose chemotherapy. Finally, we now have a better understanding of the biological changes that occur in a myeloma cell and this is helping us to better target treatment needed among these patients.

As we discover new tools and expand the options available for treating multiple myeloma, we see encouraging advancements in both survival and quality of life for these patients. The multidisciplinary treatment team at Winship at Emory has been recognized as a national and international leader in both transplant and non-transplant based approaches to treatment therapies, patient outcomes and clinical trials.

Multiple Myeloma Online Chat

Multiple Myeloma Chat Sign UpWant to learn more about multiple myeloma? Join expert physician, Jonathan Kaufman, MD, for a live web chat on March 11, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST. Dr. Kaufman will be there to answers all your questions about known risks, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma. Bring your questions and prepare for a great discussion!

Multiple Myeloma Chat Sign Up

About Dr. Sagar Lonial

Dr. Sagar LonialDr. Lonial is Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, and Director of the Translational Research for the B-Cell Malignancy Program. He is also a professor in the Emory University School of Medicine.

Dr. Lonial’s research focuses on combination therapy in B-cell malignancies focusing on myeloma. He is a trained bone marrow transplant physician with an interest in molecular therapy for lymphoma and myeloma. His clinical interests include evaluating the combination of new molecular targeted agents for B-cell tumors as well as target discovery and validation.

Dr. Lonial has authored or coauthored over 200 publications and recently was awarded the Celgene ‘Young Investigator’ Award, the MMRF ‘Top 15 Innovator’ Award, and the MMRC ‘Center of the Year’ award.

He earned his medical degree from the University Of Louisville School Of Medicine. He completed his internship and residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, followed by a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Running to Carry Forth a Father’s Passion to Make a Difference…

The Winship Win the Fight 5K brings together runners and supporters who participate for a wide variety of reasons. Some run to raise awareness for the importance of cancer funding and research, while others participate to honor the legacy of loved ones who are either currently in the fight against cancer, or those who have lost the battle.

Charles Stevens with daughters

Chandra Stephens-Albright & Charlita Stephens-Walker with their father, Charles.

For Chandra Stephens-Albright and Charlita Stephens-Walker, this weekend’s race is extremely important as the sisters prepare to run for a very special person, their father, Charles R. Stephens. “His name was Charles, his legacy is never giving up, and his leadership was, and remains, in raising funds to do good,” said Chandra about her father who passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer in February 2013.

Charles spent his professional career as a fundraising leader, serving in senior development positions at many educational institutions including his alma mater, Morehouse College. Other places of work included Dillard University, Clark College, Clark Atlanta University, Indiana University Center on Philanthropy and The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He also served as the national campaign director for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

But Charles’s impact goes far beyond the institutions and organizations for which he served his professional time raising funds. Today, his legacy extends nationally to the individuals who shared his passion for fundraising. As the first African American Chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), a prestigious and international fundraising association, Charles dedicated his life to changing the fundraising industry from the inside out.

A passage from the AFP’s tribute to Charles following his passing captures it all: “Charles’s lifetime passion was to merge philanthropy and diversity (which he saw as nearly the same ideas) and introduce people of diverse backgrounds to the profession he calls ‘inclusive, noble, and worthwhile.’ His efforts changed the way the fundraising community looks at diversity, brought countless women and minorities into the profession and earned him the AFP Chair’s Award for Outstanding Service, an honor that has been granted to less than 20 people since it was instituted in 1982.”

The Chair’s Award was given to Charles during the AFP’s national conference in 2011, which was shortly after Charles had been diagnosed with cancer. Chandra and Charlita accompanied their father to the conference in Chicago, where they learned for the first time the full scope of Charles’s impact on the entire fundraising profession.

“He was a rock star, but to us he had never said so,” said Chandra, a 1985 Emory College alumna. She adds, “My sister and I did not really understand his national contribution until this cancer came along. It is this that establishes the groundwork for our Winship 5K team name – Charles’ Legacy Leaders.”

During his battle with cancer, Charles continued to live life fully by not only continuing to work at his passion, but by taking special vacations and spending quality time with his family, friends and peers.

“I can’t do justice to my father’s spirit with words,” Chandra said. “Not only did he undergo multiple rounds of chemo, but he did so while maintaining his positive spirit and his irrepressible sense of humor. We had two fantastic years to spend with him – years we didn’t think we’d have – in large part due to the fantastic care he got from the team at Winship.”

At the Winship 5K, there is no shortage of inspirational stories like Charles’s to be found. Incredible people like the Stephen sisters are joining in the fight against cancer to honor those who have gone before and made an impact on the world. If you would like to donate to the Winship 5K, contribute to the Charles Legacy Leaders team, or sign-up for the race yourself, please visit our Winship 5K website for more information.

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Brain Tumor Patient Embraces Life – One Step at a Time

Brain Tumor Patient Story

Dr. Costas Hadjipanayis and Jennifer Giliberto at the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation’s 2011 Race for Research.

In 2007, Jennifer Giliberto received the news that would change her and her young family’s life. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor — a grade II astrocytoma. Jennifer had a choice – let the brain tumor put her on the sidelines or continue to embrace life. She and her family chose the latter. Since her diagnosis, Jennifer has become a board member for the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation (SBTF) and currently serves as board Vice President. She also is a top fundraiser for their annual Race for Research which is slated for Saturday, September 21 at Atlantic Station.

Emory University Hospital Midtown’s chief of neurosurgery and Jennifer’s own surgeon, Costas Hadjipanayis, MD, PhD, says that the SBTF often is a lifeline for patients and their families. Dr. Hadjipanayis also serves as president of the SBTF.

“The Race for Research brings together patients, their families and their friends to raise awareness and funds for brain tumor research,” says Hadjipanayis. “It’s not only a fun event, but it also helps fund grants for brain tumor research at leading medical research centers throughout the southeast like Emory.”

Learn more about Jennifer’s inspiring story by watching the CNN video below:

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Why We Run: A New Type of Togetherness

Bari Ellen & Charles RossBari Ellen and Charles Roberts always had a strong marriage. Togetherness was a major goal for the couple, who married in late midlife. Their shared experience of running a restaurant together, traveling together and moving across country to Arizona for a new life adventure strengthened their bond.

Their togetherness took a wayward turn in 2009, however, when the husband and wife were each diagnosed with cancer within two days of one another. Charles had been sick for months, but doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong. Bari Ellen, who was feeling great physically, had gone to yet another doctor’s appointment with her husband. Charles suggested to the doctor that perhaps he just had an infection, as his wife seemed to have an infection, too.

“She’s got a lump on her neck. Maybe we both just have an infection,” Charles said.

The doctor took one look at the lump on Bari Ellen’s neck and said, “Make an appointment with the receptionist tomorrow.” It was a good thing that she did.

“They did a biopsy, and the doctor told me I had head and neck cancer and that it was pretty far gone. He said he didn’t know what he could do for me,” Bari Ellen remembered.

Her cancer was staged at 4B and the prognosis was poor. Two days after Bari Ellen received her bad news, lab results for Charlie came back announcing that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.

“We were in a swirl,” Bari Ellen said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

Within a week, Bari Ellen went to Atlanta at the suggestion of her daughter, who works at Emory, to get a second opinion. Her daughter had told her that maybe the couple could find hope and better news at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

“Once we got to Winship and saw their compassion and dedication and their sense of purpose, we got a sense of purpose and hope, too,” Bari Ellen said. “They gave us an action plan; they didn’t just write me off. We knew we had a fight before us, but we knew we could win it.”

Today, as survivors for four years, the Rosses are retired, enjoying grandchildren, exercising, volunteering and taking care to eat healthfully. They are also running races and this year, both of them are registered for the Winship Win the Fight 5K on October 5th. The couple have formed a team called the Ross Re-Missionaries, and are recruiting as many friends and family members as they can.

“After everything we’ve been through, and after everything they’ve done, I said ‘We’re going to start giving back,’” Bari Ellen said.

The randomness of their diagnoses helps the Rosses to understand the importance of cancer research, which is another reason they strongly support the Winship Win the Fight 5K. All money goes to cancer research at Winship and donors can choose a specific cancer type to which they would like to contribute.

“Our doctors were so phenomenal and did so much for us that we want to do whatever we can,” Bari Ellen said. “They saved our lives.”

The Winship Win the Fight 5K is fast upon us! If you want to run or simply help support other runners like the Roberts, visit the Winship 5K website for more information.

Related Resources:

Why I Run: To Raise Awareness & Funding For My Dad’s Cancer

Nething Family Melanoma Patient StoryWhen Sarah Nething learned that her father’s melanoma had come back, she knew it was time to take charge in the fight against cancer. “When cancer comes, you feel kind of helpless,” says Sarah. “Our family believes very strongly in the power of prayer, but you still feel like you want to do something.” And Sarah is doing something. As the oldest of ten children and a graduate student in South Carolina, Sarah has set up a team for the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University’s Win the Fight 5K Run/Walk.

“I can’t take away my dad’s cancer; however, I can participate in something that raises research money to help the doctors try to figure out how to stop it,” says Sarah. So on October 5, Sarah and other members of the Nething family will run the 5K in their father’s honor. Their team – Race for Matt – is running to not only raise general awareness, but also funds for Winship’s Melanoma & Skin Cancer Fund. The Winship Melanoma & Skin Cancer Fund is one of 18 funds which Winship 5K participants can direct their donations to.

In preparing for the upcoming race, Sarah has yet to lose any motivation. “A friend of ours describes how our family feels perfectly when he says ‘Trust God completely, fight cancer aggressively.’ That’s exactly what we plan to do,” she concludes.

If you are interested in learning more about the Win the Fight 5K, want to run or simply help support other runners like the Nething family, visit the Winship 5K website for more information.

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Though Common, Prostate Cancer is Often Very Treatable – Join Our Q&A Chat for Details

Prostate Cancer Q&A ChatDid you know that prostate cancer is the second most common cancer experienced by men, after skin cancer? The good news is that, when caught early, it can often be treated with great success.

Millions of men are living today as survivors of prostate cancer. Being armed with good information in advance is a key ingredient in protecting yourself or your loved ones from this disease.

Join Emory Chairman of the Department of Urology, Dr. Martin Sanda, on Tuesday, September 24, for an online web chat to discuss “Prostate Cancer.”

Prostate Cancer Chat Sign Up

Cancer Researchers, Patients Support Winship 5K Side-by-Side

Winship 5K on FacebookOne of the most inspiring parts of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University’s Win the Fight 5K race is seeing physicians and researchers run alongside their patients. In fact, many members of the Winship care team turn out on race day to support the cause, and many even host their own teams. Among these participants is Donald Harvey, PharmD, and director of Winship’s Phase I Clinical Trials Unit.

Dr. Harvey and other researchers in the Phase I unit work with volunteer participants to test the safety of new drugs and treatments and identify possible side effects. Winship’s Phase I Center is one of only two such units in Georgia and by far the largest and busiest, with 38 trials conducted in 2011 and research that has led to four drugs in the FDA approval pipeline. These drugs will hopefully go on to cure people of cancer or extend their lives for many years.

Winship Cancer Institute Patients Participate in 5K Relay for Be The Match

A few days before the 2013 Be The Match Walk+Run 5K that took place on Saturday, June 15, bone marrow transplant patients, family members and staff at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University conducted their own 5-kilometer relay in the transplant ward of Emory University Hospital. Since some participants couldn’t walk the entire circuit, most walked as long as they could before passing the baton off to the next person. Sixty-six laps around the transplant ward equaled five kilometers.

Bone marrow transplant patients and their family members often experience long weeks (and sometimes even months) of treatment.

“[The relay] is fun and it gives people an idea that they are not losing so much or giving up so much by being here, and they can still participate in things. Also, it’s a way for them to give back. It’s a way for all of us to give back,” says Amelia Langston, MD, medical director of the Emory Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center.

Learn more about the Winship Cancer Institute Bone Marrow Transplant Program by watching the video below, or by using the related resources links provided below the video.

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When do your Moles Require a Trip to the Dermatologist?

Skin Cancer MolesHave you performed your monthly mole check? If not, take time today to do it and put it on your calendar for this day every month! Checking your moles monthly can help you from developing malignant melanoma. The earlier you find suspicious moles or lesions, the better your chances of being cured.

Some helpful tips to examine your moles:

  • Examine your skin after a shower, in good light, in front of a mirror without your clothes on.
  • Make sure to do a thorough, full body inspection. Start with your toes or your face and work your way over every surface of your body. Be sure to also check your scalp, underarms and genitals, parts that could be covered with hair.
  • Look for moles or skin markings that you haven’t noticed before, or areas that have changed in appearance since your last exam. Pay special attention to lesions that bleed or don’t heal.
  • Photos taken over a period of time can be helpful in determining whether a skin marking has changed.
  • Follow the ABC method for examining suspicious markings:
    • A = Asymmetry – do both sides of the mole match? If one side does not match the other, it could indicate melanoma.
    • B= Border – If the border has jagged or irregular edges, see your physician right away.
    • C = Color – Black, red, white and multi-colored moles should be seen by a professional right away. Tan and brown moles are usually ok, but make sure to watch for changes to these moles as well.
  • Diameter – Usually moles should be smaller than the end of a pen.
  • Elevation – moles should be flush with the skin around the mole. If you notice a mole is raised, visit your physician right away.
  • Do what you can to prevent skin cancer. Some ideas:
  • Wear sunscreen in the sun, in all seasons!
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Avoid tanning salons
  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10am and 3pm

Take action today to protect yourself and your family members!

About Margi  McKellar, MS, PA  Emory Winship Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Coordinator

Margi plays a unique role for the team as our Melanoma Coordinator. In this position, she serves as the point of contact for referring physicians and the patients and guides  them from the point of  their initial referral through long-term follow up. She helps our patients use their time efficiently, analyzing patient flow, appointment availability, clinical trial eligibility and ensures that patients see the correct complement of specialist to receive optimal care – medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, lymphedema specialists. Margi actively interfaces with our clinical trial nurses to ensure patients have the opportunity to be considered for clinical trials while facilitating prompt screening for these programs. In addition to coordinating the care of patients, she also sees patients in our long-term follow up clinics.

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