Mystery illness turns into important pediatric cancer research
May 20 is International Clinical Trials Day. Here at MultiCare, the MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation is one of the only community-based hospital research programs in the region, bringing nearly 150 of local, regional and national trials directly to our communities. This work holds the promise of making a real difference for the men, women and children who come to our system for care, as well as for health care and medicine around the world.
For a real-life example of how research is helping our patients, read on for the story of Savannah Lingenfelter, a current participant in one of our pediatric cancer treatment trials.
Clinical Research is a vital part of developing new technologies and treatments for the future of health care. It also has the power to change the way we provide care to our patients here and now. Patients like 4-year-old Savannah Lingenfelter.
In 2012, the Lingenfelters knew that there was something wrong with their daughter when she began suffering from recurring fevers. But multiple trips to their local health care providers didn’t give them answers.
Finally, her concerned parents brought Savannah to MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. There, Emergency Department staff quickly tracked down the cause of her fevers.
“They had a diagnosis within three hours,” says Cheryl Lingenfelter, Savannah’s mom.
Savannah had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that is the most common type of cancer in children. Savannah was admitted to Mary Bridge under the care of pediatric oncologist William J. Thomas, MD.
Within 30 days of her diagnosis, Savannah’s cancer was declared to be in remission. “We were lucky,” says Cheryl. “She was an ‘easy’ cancer case. There were no complications.”
But like many cancers, leukemia can return, so treatment continues long after remission. And because Savannah had responded so well to her initial treatment, she qualified to participate in a research study for the next phases.
The goal of the study, which is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, is to determine how different amounts or combinations of cancer drugs can improve leukemia treatments for children. There are two benefits researchers hope to see:
- Fewer total treatment phases (see below)—and a longer reprieve between hospital trips during the final (maintenance) phase
- A less toxic treatment—while maintaining the current five-year/95 percent disease-free survival rate
Savannah was the first Mary Bridge patient to be randomly selected for the experimental portion of the trial, thanks in part to MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation’s expanding pediatric research program. She’ll reach the end of her treatment cycle by March of 2015.
“Some weeks are better than others,” says Cheryl, “but overall she’s doing very well.”
Treatment phases in the study
Phase 2. After initial treatment, children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia typically enter a four-week second phase followed by two eight-week interim treatment phases. Children in the experimental portion of the study receive a longer second phase. Savannah’s second phase of treatment lasted 19 weeks, with no interim treatments.
Phase 3. The third phase of treatment is a maintenance phase. Unlike the standard maintenance phase, which repeats every 12 weeks, Savannah is on a 16-week treatment cycle, which will end 2.5 years from the date of her diagnosis. The combination and amounts of cancer drugs that she is taking are also different from the standard protocol.
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