Posts filed under ‘Alumni’

Pediatric experimental cancer therapeutics program’s success is thanks to Four Diamonds support

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 20-22. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $114 million has been raised and donated to Four Diamonds, a foundation that supports the families of pediatric patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and the cancer research done here. For more information on THON, or to watch the activities live, visit THON.org. For more information on Four Diamonds, visit FourDiamonds.org.

Dr. Valerie Brown

Dr. Valerie Brown

When Dr. Valerie Brown was hired as clinical director of the experimental therapeutics program in the Division of Pediatric Oncology/Hematology at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, she had a vision: Develop a menu of experimental cancer treatment options not available in the region.

Through funding from Four Diamonds, her vision is becoming a reality, helping young cancer patients find alternatives when standard care isn’t enough.

Experimental therapeutics are typically phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. In phase 1 trials, researchers are looking for toxicity in the therapies. In phase 2 trials, the effectiveness of the therapies on specific cancer types is studied before testing in bigger studies.

“I really hit the ground running, and one of the things we needed to do was expand the portfolio because you don’t want to compete with other academic medical centers,” Brown said. “You want to offer things not offered at other places and be able to offer a variety of different studies for a large spectrum of cancer types.”

To help with that goal, Penn State Hershey joined several consortiums including the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium. The consortiums bring together several institutions all sharing the same goal by working together cooperatively, opening up access to a variety of clinical trials.

Brown has seen how the approach is working.

In one case, a child had neuroblastoma in remission and was set to participate in a study to keep the cancer in remission, called maintenance therapy. But as scans and imaging were completed, it was discovered that she relapsed and the cancer had returned.

“That meant she wasn’t eligible for the maintenance therapy study,” Brown said. “But instead of having to turn that child away with her disappointed mom, devastated with news that the neuroblastoma had returned, we had another protocol that is a treatment for relapsed neuroblastoma. If we didn’t have that portfolio of clinical studies ready, she would have had to leave and go somewhere else.”

In this case, the study is a personalized – or precision – medicine study. The tumor’s DNA and RNA are extracted from a piece of the tumor and are analyzed and compared against normal tissues in the body and other cancer type cells.

“Therapies are based on how the same tumor types typically react to treatment,” Brown said. “But each tumor is individual, and if the person has relapsed, we already know it isn’t reacting like a typical tumor. By analyzing the patient’s individual tumor, we try to find out what differences are making it react differently, and then we decide what we think will be the best difference to target for treatment.”

These results are then compared and prioritized by a computer program against a panel of about 200 agents – some of which are alternative like the spice curcumin, which is known to be active against cancers.

Those reports are then sent to primary investigators at the centers across the country that participate in the consortium. People are assigned to review the case and come up with a treatment plan based upon these reports, which is then discussed virtually through a tumor board.

“That day, as badly as I felt for that poor mom and child because she relapsed, I turned to our medical director and I said, ‘this is why we set up our program like we have. This is the vision we had, and it is benefitting our patients,’” Brown said.

Including studies in the Children’s Oncology Group, there are currently up to 40 trials available, with around 10 being early phase trials. Patients have travelled from nearby states to participate in the studies.

“People are coming from other states because the treatment options are not available there,” Brown said. “By word of mouth, and on social media from the parents, people have recognized that we are offering things that nobody is offering nearby.”

She continues to look for opportunities to connect Penn State Hershey doctors and scientists with peers at other institutions. She also actively looks for opportunities to move Penn State Hershey research in the laboratories into clinical trials through the consortiums.

“These parents are coming to us and are really at the end of the rope for their children,” Brown said. “You could offer, ‘I read a paper and they tried this and maybe…’ but the science side of me just can’t let that happen. We have to do this in a systematic way because we really want to make sure what we treat our children with is effective and not hurting them more. That can only be done in the context of studies and trials.”

All of this would not be possible without the support of Four Diamonds and the Penn State students who work hard throughout the year raising funds through THON.

“It takes time. It takes money. It takes resources,” Brown said. “Luckily I have a lot of those things here that I didn’t have at other places. Without the Four Diamonds’ backing, and its recognition of the importance of having an early phase program, none of this could happen and I wouldn’t be here. The money, in my opinion, has been well spent because even if these children don’t have the outcomes we want, we are contributing to the wealth of knowledge, and hopefully pushing it along so that the next child who walks through the door won’t have to go through a relapse or undergo such intense treatments.”

February 19, 2015 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

Scholarship recipients give thanks for alumni support

During this season of thanks, and in honor of National Philanthropy Day (officially celebrated on Nov. 15), Penn State College of Medicine recognizes a group of individuals who have affected the institution in countless ways—our alumni.

Since the first medical class graduated from the College of Medicine in 1971, alumni have been making important contributions to advance scientific inquiry and shape the practice of healthcare. They have:

Pioneered advances in artificial heart technology, cancer care and treatment, primary care practice, pediatric cardiac care and neonatology;

Practiced medicine in rural communities, major metropolitan areas and developing nations around the world; and

Published their research in the most prestigious scientific journals and have been recognized among the Best Doctors in America.

However, our distinguished alumni do not just pay it forward for the communities they serve, they also give back to inspire, mentor and support current students—learners who want to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps but also forge their own unique paths. (more…)

November 14, 2014 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

Advocacy program gives victims of domestic violence a voice

When a woman walks into the Emergency Department at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, she is asked what is wrong. While her physical symptoms may be obvious, there is sometimes more going on than is visible on the surface.

She may actually be one of the 30 percent of women seen by emergency physicians whose injuries are the result of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month ends, Shelby Linstrom is now charged with helping potential victims and training Medical Center staff to recognize when a patient may be holding back vital information. Linstrom is the new medical advocate from the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg‘s Violence Intervention and Prevention Program at the Medical Center.

According to Rhonda Hendrickson, program director, part of the advocate’s job is to ensure that the staff is aware of red flags and how to help someone who may have experienced abuse.

(more…)

October 31, 2014 at 7:25 am Leave a comment

Inaugural event seeks to connect the public with public health concerns and training opportunities

What is the best way to prevent food borne illness? How effective is hospice care? What factors influence hookah use in college students? And, is raw milk safe?

These are the type of questions that public health scientists work to answer each day. Unlike other health professionals, their focus is on prevention, rather than treatment of conditions.

Public_Health_Symposium_05-09-2014_014As the national healthcare climate begins to shift from a reactive to proactive focus – working to reduce costs and improve outcomes for those with chronic diseases through behavior management and education – the field of public health is exploding.

As Penn State Hershey’s new Master of Public Health (MPH) program celebrated the recent graduation of its second cohort of students this spring, it organized a Public Health Day Symposium at the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg to bring together nearly 100 students, faculty, government employees, policy makers and community public health practitioners.

Farrah Kauffman, deputy director of the program, said the department organized the inaugural event “to expose students to professionals in the field, and to provide them with a chance to hear about the latest and greatest of what is happening now — as well as some networking opportunities.”

Vernon Chinchilli, chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State Hershey, said the MPH program, which began in 2011, expects to become fully accredited this June. The two-year, full-time program, designed for working professionals with evening classes, will be joined by a doctorate program, possibly as soon as fall 2015.

(more…)

July 22, 2014 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

French, bad breath, and the Kardashians: One medical student’s reflections

If laughter really is the best medicine, Bailey Sanders is going to make a great doctor. Sanders was chosen by her peers in Penn State College of Medicine’s Class of 2014 to give this year’s student commencement address. The future doctor kept the crowd in stitches, threading together humorous examples to illustrate three components to building a life and career free of regrets.

Sanders posited that passion is one key ingredient, and for an example looked to a scientist who drank the contents of his own petri dish and “documented his subsequent suffering with regular biopsies and his mother’s opinion of how his breath smelled.” The unconventional experiment resulted in a Nobel Prize.

To hear Sanders’ full commencement speech, watch this video:

June 18, 2014 at 8:13 am 2 comments

Cheers, hugs, and tears at 2014 Match Day

On Friday, March 21, fourth-year medical students across the country discovered where they will spend their residencies in an annual tradition known as Match Day. For more than 120 students at Penn State College of Medicine, their Match Day event included a countdown to the moment when they ripped open the envelopes that hold their futures – a moment marked by cheers, hugs and tears. In all, 100 percent of the college’s senior medical student residency applicants matched to one of the residency programs to which they had applied. Of the 133 graduates, 26 of them will remain at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for residency.

March 24, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Making inpatient cancer care better for patients and caregivers

Kurt Holtzer never had a problem racing up multiple flights of stairs to respond to code calls for his job at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But when he couldn’t climb a single flight without doubling over to catch his breath in May 2012, he knew something was wrong.

After an initial diagnosis of asthma, and a battery of tests that lasted several weeks, he was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia and myelofibrosis, as well as a genetic mutation putting him in a high-risk category for survival. Without treatment, doctors gave him three months to live.

“I had recently lost my mother to lung cancer,” he says. “Having seen how my mother dealt with the chemo regimen, I didn’t want to go through that.” Because of his wife, Julie, and two children, he decided to do it: “I wasn’t ready to let go of her and the kids.”

So, on Memorial Day of last year, the life he had known ceased to exist. He fought fear, worry, and trepidation during nine rounds of chemotherapy, nine bone marrow biopsies and a stem cell transplant.

Holtzer’s cancer went into remission this spring, and he is back at work as a supervisor for the medical center’s biomedical team.

Each Friday, he takes his lunch break at 11 a.m. so he can take part in a weekly music and physical therapy program in the new inpatient adult cancer unit on the seventh floor. He shares his story, talks with others, and assures them he does understand what they are going through. (more…)

November 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm 1 comment

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