Lessons Learned from a Doctor Who Became a Patient

Mel Johnson
July 20th, 2016

As professionals in the clinical research industry, much of our focus is devoted to trial feasibility, IRB approval, operations, budgeting and the overall business of clinical trials.

But when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we remember why we immerse ourselves in this meaningful work. We are making a difference in an individual’s life–sometimes offering them the option of life when no hope is left.

To kick off the 8th Annual AACI-CRI Meeting in Chicago, IL, Dr. Keith Eaton delivered a moving keynote on his perspective as a research oncologist diagnosed with a devastating cancer – B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia. After several traditional chemotherapies, the prognosis wasn’t good. So with the support of his colleagues and family, Dr. Eaton explored possible clinical trials that could positively impact his disease.

After connecting with a team in Philadelphia, Dr. Eaton entered into a phase 1 clinical trial for an immune therapy called chimeric antigen receptors therapy, also known as CAR-T cells. He also underwent a bone marrow transplant and entered into a second trial that prevented graft-versus-bone disease. Both trials were successful for Dr. Eaton, as the teams were unable to detect cancer cells in his marrow.

From the bench, to the bedside, and finally to the bed, Dr. Eaton shared his lessons learned as a cancer patient and clinical trial participant.

When patients are looking for hope, consenting for many concurrent trials can be overwhelming.

As Dr. Eaton participated in the main trials, several protocols were added on, and at times it became too much. From a patient’s perspective, it becomes a choice between what could actually help versus what is manageable, physically and mentally. Thoughtfully presenting protocols that could make a difference should always be at the forefront.

It can take a lot of perseverance to get into a trial.

“I was the perfect patient–I knew how to be compliant, and I still ran into delays,” said Dr. Eaton. Not only is the timing of a trial important, but also factors that clinical trial professionals may not think about such as family needs, living situations, insurance coverage, and financial costs.

Delays matter–timing can be critical.

A lot of work goes into activating a protocol–sometimes years of work. But when trials are a human’s last hope at life, timing can be everything. Moving protocols through processes like IRB review efficiently is critical to offering new therapies and options to cancer patients who otherwise may not have a future.

It’s not just about the treatment.

Being a clinical trial patient is not just about the actual therapy–but so much more. It’s a journey that friends and family join. It’s communication to your community with websites like Caringbridge.com. And it’s fulfilling a sense of purpose that participating in trials could not only make a difference in your life – but another human life as well.

Dr. Eaton is grateful for his second chance–and has shifted his work to focus on improving cancer care delivery. He considers himself a miracle in the sense that something highly improbable happened. But in reality, the miracle is the work of doctors, researchers and clinical trial professionals navigating the everyday challenges to bring us the latest therapies and cures so that we can have another chance at life.

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