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Patient Care: Employee Profiles


Changing the Landscape of Cancer

By Mary Jane Schier

Razelle Kuzrock, M.D.

The high hopes that Razelle Kurzrock, M.D., had for helping change the face of cancer when she joined M. D. Anderson’s faculty in 1984 took longer than anticipated.
“Now that we have a greater understanding about the genetic and molecular basis of cancer, we’re developing a steady stream of targeted agents for Phase I clinical trials. Most of these novel agents have exciting potential for improving therapy for multiple types of cancer,” notes Kurzrock, a professor of medicine, who last summer was named founding chair of the Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics.

Kurzrock adds that many more new drugs also are being produced at pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

The new department reflects Kurzrock’s leadership in clinical trials, including her landmark laboratory research defining the role of growth factors, cytokines and other biologic agents in managing several cancers and treatment complications. It’s a direct expansion of the Phase I Clinical Trials Program she directs.

Kurzrock launched the Phase I Program in mid-2004 with two clinical trials. By fall 2007, she and her colleagues were conducting 68 Phase I studies that had enrolled more than 550 patients. About one-third of the Phase I trials are first-in-human studies of brand new agents for advanced tumor types. These studies are primarily sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.

“This is an exhilarating time for us because we’re seeing some dramatic responses without serious side effects for several cancers,” she says. “To date, nine of our Phase I agents have transitioned to Phase II clinical trials, with 21 Phase II studies having opened or about to start in the disease-site multidisciplinary care centers. Many people still believe the old dogma that claims we’re not looking for responses when new drugs initially reach the clinic in Phase I trials, but with the emergence of new targeted therapies we’re seeing clinical responses in several of our trials.”

Most Phase I trials are the result of laboratory bench discoveries transferred to patients in the clinic. But Kurzrock says bedside-back-to-bench research is just as important. After observing good responses from three of eight patients with Ewing’s sarcoma in a Phase I trial of an antibody against the insulin growth factor receptor, she initiated a project to understand the molecular mechanisms that determine why some patients responded and others didn’t.

“With our existing and emerging targeted therapies,” she says, “we’re truly changing the landscape for cancer. 

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A Humble Hero

By Carol Bryce

Loven Panes, R.N.

When it comes to taking care of M. D. Anderson’s patients, Loven Panes’ philosophy is simple.
“I think about how I’d want my family members to be treated. I always remember that every patient is someone’s mom, dad, brother or sister,” he says.

Panes goes about his duties as a clinical registered nurse in the Bed/Chair Unit of the Ambulatory Treatment Center in a quiet, unassuming manner. But his hard work and positive attitude haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2007, Panes’ received the Division of Nursing Excellence Award in Clinical Practice-Outpatient Setting and an M. D. Anderson Outstanding Employee Award for the quality care and support he provides to patients.

“Loven is a compassionate nurse who’s always willing to go the extra mile,” according to Nurse Manager Virginia Gibson.

“He jumps at the chance to help anyone in need, whether patient, co-worker or family member,” another colleague says.

Gibson adds that it’s not unusual for patients to declare, “I don’t mind waiting as long as I can have him as my nurse.”

Panes accepts the compliments with a modest, “I’m honored that people acknowledge my work.”

A native of the Philippines, Panes came to the United States in 1995. Working as a hemodialysis nurse at an Illinois hospital, he eventually discovered that he “couldn’t bear the cold weather.” He decided to head south and applied for a nursing position at M. D. Anderson “because I knew this was the best cancer hospital in the world.”

Panes began his M. D. Anderson career in August 2004. One year later, his wife, Joy, accepted a position as a clinical nurse in the Sarcoma Center. According to Panes, the ATC Bed/Chair Unit is a busy place, with more than 16,500 patient visits in 2007.

Panes lost his father to lung cancer and saw his mother-in-law battle breast cancer, so his interest in cancer is both personal and professional. Today, his greatest gratification comes from caring for patients.

“I know that at the end of the day, I’ve made a difference in their lives, even if I’ve just made them feel safe and comfortable and given them someone to talk to while they’re receiving treatment.” 

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More Room to Treat Melanoma

By Mary Jane Schier

Jeffrey E. Lee, M.D.

When the Ben Love/El Paso Corporation Melanoma and Skin Center opened last year, the event occurred as M. D. Anderson specialists were treating a record number of patients in a space bursting at the seams.
“We’ve nearly doubled the size of our center, which will allow our multidisciplinary staff to more effectively provide better treatments to more patients,” says Jeffrey E. Lee, M.D., professor in the Department of Surgical Oncology and medical director of the center. “The 30 exam rooms include three specialized light treatment rooms and two procedure rooms.”

More than 4,000 new patients were among the more than 15,000 patients with melanoma and other skin cancers treated in 2007 at M. D. Anderson.

Lee predicts the demand for services will grow as melanoma in the United States is rising faster than any other cancer. While melanoma accounts for only 4% of all skin cancers, it causes nearly 80% of skin cancer deaths.

The center was named to recognize El Paso Corporation’s $1.5 million gift in memory of Houston bank executive and civic leader Ben Love, former chair of M. D. Anderson’s Board of Visitors. A major portion of the gift supports melanoma and immunology research led by Patrick Hwu, M.D., chair of the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology.

Lee says the evaluation and surgical treatment of melanoma patients has “improved tremendously” since he joined the faculty in 1993. He expects better medical treatments for melanoma as additional targeted therapies emerge based on the genetic and molecular signature of each patient’s disease.

Newer treatments are evolving from the $11.5 million Melanoma Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant awarded to M. D. Anderson in 2004. Lee, who is co-director of the National Cancer Institute grant, says one clinical trial that Hwu directs has begun to test a vaccine as an adjuvant therapy for melanoma patients at high risk for recurrence, and two more trials should start soon.

“Data collected through our SPORE is helping us to develop blood marker tests — similar to the PSA test for prostate cancer — that will predict recurrence. Knowing up front which patients are at high risk for recurrence or spread will mean we can treat them early and more aggressively to help improve survival rates,” Lee explains.

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© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center