Cancer in the Crosshairs

March 12, 2015
Cynthia Cattell stands looking into the sunlight.

When U of M physics professor Cynthia Cattell was diagnosed with an aggressive blood cancer in June 2012, she went through a grueling routine of chemotherapy, radiation, and even two bone marrow transplants. Nothing helped.

Meanwhile, Masonic Cancer Center researcher Daniel Vallera and his colleagues had developed a new cancer drug. Using parts of existing genes, they built a new gene and placed it in bacteria. The gene prompted the bacteria to produce the drug, which contained antibodies to home in on the cancer cells, plus a toxin to kill them.

Invited last summer to join a small clinical trial of the drug, led by U of M physician/researcher Veronika Bachanova, Cattell jumped at the chance. Within a month, a single treatment had shrunk her cancer by 75 percent; a second treatment left her in complete remission.

“Thanks to [this drug], I have been cancer free without requiring additional treatment,” says Cattell. “It’s given me the chance to regain the energy I need to return to my own research and work with my students.”  

“It amazes me how much different talent there is at the U of M and how you can orchestrate that talent to work as a team to accomplish these things,” adds Vallera.