Like most women with ovarian cancer, 44-year-old Christine Sable of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, did not discover she had the disease until it was in the advanced stages and had spread to other areas of the abdomen. “I knew my chances of recurrence were very high—75 to 80 percent at that particular stage—and that the disease would likely recur within a year or two,” she says. “Once it recurs, it is difficult to cure.”
After aggressive surgery and chemotherapy, the only other option her doctor could offer was more chemotherapy. But the first round had been “very hard,” Sable recalls. “I wanted to find something that would work with my own immune system and not be so harsh on my body.”
Then she learned about a Phase I clinical research study of an ovarian cancer vaccine developed by Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, Surgeon in Gynecologic Oncology and Co-Leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park. The vaccine is designed to trigger an immune response in the significant number of women who have tumors that test positive for the antigen NY-ESO-1.
The study was open to patients who had completed their initial treatments and who had no further evidence of disease; Sable fit the profile. She says the day she was accepted into the study was “one of the most exciting days of my life.” She began treatment at Roswell Park in February 2004, and her immune system responded so strongly to the first five doses of vaccine that she received another five, then another five, each time experiencing a better response—with no side effects. Now 49 and still cancer-free, she returns to Roswell Park just once a year for continued monitoring.
Odunsi is currently leading a team of Roswell Park researchers who are working to improve the vaccine’s effectiveness. The vaccine is an important new focus in the search for better treatments for ovarian cancer, which is often difficult to treat.
Sable says participating in the trial “was a very good experience; I was very well cared for. Dr. Odunsi is a gentle, kind man, brilliant and dedicated and very compassionate.”
In May of 2008, Sable will mark the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis and survival. “To have had this many years cancer-free is really amazing.”
The study in which she participated was supported by the Cancer Vaccine Collaborative Program of the Cancer Research Institute and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and results were reported in the July 25, 2007, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol. 104, no. 31).
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