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“It’s like three little pin pricks just underneath the skin. That's about it.”
February 2009 was not a good month for David Healy. At age 44, David, a husband and father of three boys, was laid off from his job working as a car mechanic. While lugging his heavy tool box home for the last time, David noticed some pain in his lower back. The next day, he woke up with a debilitating backache. He went to an urgent care facility where doctors told him he likely had gallstones. Further tests ultimately yielded a much worse diagnosis: stage 4 metastatic kidney cancer.
Kidney cancer is a difficult cancer to treat. Often without symptoms in its early stages, it may not be diagnosed until after it has spread to other parts of the body. When detected in the advanced stages, it is often resistant to chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapies. Targeted therapies, such as VEGF inhibitors, are often the first-line treatment, but better therapies are needed—particularly for patients like David, who are diagnosed when the disease has advanced.
At the recommendation of Arkadiusz Dudek, M.D., Ph.D., a medical oncologist then at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, David enrolled in a phase 2 clinical study evaluating an approved VEGF inhibitor called sunitinib (Sutent®), plus an experimental immunotherapy called AGS-003, developed by Argos Therapeutics. AGS-003 is a personalized cancer immunotherapy designed to help the body’s immune system recognize and fight cancer cells. In order to make AGS-003, dendritic cells are obtained from a patient’s own white blood cells. The dendritic cells are then loaded with tumor antigens from the patient’s own tumor. Once the dendritic cells have been “educated” with these antigens to recognize a patient’s tumor, they are injected back into the patient on a regular basis, where they will then stimulate T cells to fight the remaining cancer.
TheAnswertoCancer (TheA2C) spoke to David about his experience being treated with this new form of immunotherapy, and how his life has changed as a result of having cancer.
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