Weiss Knows the Value of Clinical Trials
Conquest - Summer 2009
By Mary Jane Schier
Kurt Weiss will never forget receiving the last rites in the M. D. Anderson chapel during the summer of 1990.
Then 15, he had undergone surgery and chemotherapy for osteosarcoma, a primary cancer of the bone, but the prognosis was dismal after his doctors in Pittsburgh discovered lung metastases for the third time.
Fortunately, his family found that a first-in-humans study was under way at M. D. Anderson, where Eugenie Kleinerman, M.D., was applying a novel technique developed in her laboratory. The immune-based method was designed to destroy drug-resistant bone tumor cells that had spread to the lungs.
“M. D. Anderson was our last hope,” recalls Weiss, the 18th patient enrolled in the experimental study.
Kleinerman, now head of the Division of Pediatrics, has pioneered clinical research to improve long-term survival of osteosarcoma patients for 25 years. After leading two early clinical trials of MEPACT (mifamurtide or L-MTP-PE), her technique was expanded by a national cooperative group. Recently, the European Commission approved the therapy for patients with primary bone cancer that has not metastasized.
In the United States, only relapsed pediatric osteosarcoma patients are able to receive MEPACT, but Kleinerman remains optimistic that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve it for newly diagnosed patients, as well.
The summer of 1999 was a milestone for Weiss, who spent eight weeks in Kleinerman’s laboratory through M. D. Anderson’s Summer Research Program for Medical Students.
“It was an emotional experience but very exhilarating,” Weiss says about working with the research team to strengthen the therapy that had saved his life.
After earning his medical degree in 2003 from Jefferson Medical College, he conducted basic research on metastatic bone tumors in the National Institutes of Health Howard Hughes Research Scholars Program. He recently completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and began a fellowship at the University of Toronto.
“I’m focusing on musculoskeletal tumors that occur in adults and children,” Weiss notes, adding that one of his most meaningful moments was making his first research presentation four years ago at the Musculoskeletal Tumor Society.
Some of his happiest times involve wife Laura and their children, Connor and Annaliese, particularly “making pancakes for them on Sunday mornings. We are richly blessed.”
Conquest - Summer 2009
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