Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on June 19, 2020

From a study showing a popular cancer side effect management steroid decreasing the risk of death for patients in the hospital with COVID-19 to a new liquid biopsy test detecting lingering cancer in DNA, here’s what’s making the headlines in the cancer space this week.
 
BY Conor Killmurray
PUBLISHED June 19, 2020
Treatment with low-dose dexamethasone was shown to cut the risk of death for patients with COVID-19 on ventilators by nearly half.

Dexamethasone, a popular steroid used to help treat inflammation in patients with leukemia and lymphoma, is one of the many existing treatments in health care that is being evaluated to see if it works for patients with the novel coronavirus. A trial, which is being led by a team of researchers from Oxford University, in the United Kingdom, evaluated the use of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients that were hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to 4,000 who weren’t. For patients with COVID-19 who needed oxygen, dexamethasone cut the risk of death from 25% to 20% and from 40% to 28% for those placed on ventilators.

"This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality — and it reduces it significantly. It's a major breakthrough,” chief investigator professor Peter Horby said in a statement. According to the researchers, the treatment of dexamethasone would last 10 days and was very affordable for hospitals. Researchers are recommending giving it to patients in the hospital without delay.

Dressed as Captain America, 5-year-old Jake Neu rung the bell atSt. Louis Children’s Hospital after finishing his final round of chemotherapy for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Jake, who was diagnosed with ALL at just 20 months, has gone through hundreds of days of treatment and spent more than 60 nights in the hospital receiving high doses of chemotherapy.

"It became normal for him," said Jake’s mother in an interview. "And Children's became a second home and the nurses and doctors became a second family." Jake’s family hopes to close the chapter on this part of his life and move on to a new one. To help kick off that next chapter, Jake’s family and friends gathered outside the hospital to celebrate the end of his journey in a socially distant way.

University of New Orleans pitcher Eric Orze selected by the New York Mets  in the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft marking the celebration of a journey that consisted of overcoming cancer — twice.

Orze, now 22, couldn’t play for part of the 2018 season and all of the 2019 season as a result of his treatment for testicular cancer and skin cancer. However, he did get some playing time in the shortened 2020 season and accumulated three wins and 29 strikeouts.

“I wanted to cry, scream and laugh,” Orze said in an interview explaining his reaction to being drafted to the New York Mets. “It feels like a lifetime ago, it feels like a movie looking back at my cancer diagnosis.” Orze is excited to get work as the MLB tries to begin its 2020 season, as he didn’t think professional baseball would ever be an option for him.

A professor at the University of Iowa Health Care is looking to expand access to a test that can detect the presence or absence of leftover cancer in a person’s DNA.

The University of Iowa has tested nearly 100 patients with the Signatera liquid biopsy.

“There are two steps to this cancer testing. One is taking a piece of the person's tumor, seeing what it's made of, and designing a custom-built assay for each patient. Theoretically, it can work for all kinds of cancers,” said Dr. Pashtoon Kasi, assistant professor in the division of oncology, in an interview. “The program we're participating in initially was focusing on colorectal cancer and then it expanded as a means of providing expanded access to patients during this challenging time of all GI cancer patients.”

The goal of the test, and of the program, is to confirm if patients are cured after receiving treatment and without having to wait until their cancer returns. Additionally,  the hope is that the test can also act as faster method of cancer detection. Mainly, it is being used in the minimal residual disease setting to check for the presence of cancer after curative surgeries and treatment.

 
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