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Two Faces of Clinical Trials

Rhonda Levan, breast cancer clinical trial participant, has been given a new
lease on life, thanks to Matthew Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD, a Washington University medical oncologist at the Siteman Cancer Center. Each year, Washington University School of Medicine begins more than 1,000 clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of new therapies and treatments, and thousands of Barnes-Jewish and Washington University patients participate in them. In doing so, these volunteers access the latest in medical care at one of the nation’s premier medical centers. And many volunteers find new hope.

Matthew Ellis, MB, BCHIR, PhD

Medical Oncologist
Age 48, Hometown: London, England

His involvement in clinical trials:
I conduct clinical trials because over the years I’ve held the hands of too many patients dying with cancer. I firmly believe the way forward is through both basic laboratory research and clinical trials. Often the best ideas about improving treatments start in the clinic, undergo investigation in the lab to test their viability, and then are translated back to the bedside.

The impact of clinical trials on treating diseases:
It’s equivalent to the impact motorcars had on people’s mobility — it’s been life-changing. Every major advance in medicine was developed following a vigorous clinical trial process. The knowledge gained provided researchers with a clear understanding of a treatment’s benefit to patients and/or its superiority over the current standard of care.

What clinical trials mean to patients:
For most patients, clinical trials are their way of seeking out new advances in treatment. Many others have an altruistic motive as well. They hope the new therapy helps them, but they also want to contribute to a greater good. They see it as a way to benefit their children and generations to come.

Rhonda Levan

Mother of one and breast cancer clinical trial participant
Age 54, Hometown: Belleville, IL

Her involvement in a clinical trial:
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 at age 41 and then again in 1997. I did pretty well until 2006 when my back started bothering me. That’s when metastatic breast cancer was found in my pelvic bone.
Dr. Ellis explained that the clinical trial gave me another treatment option – more “mileage” is the way he termed it. That’s when I thought — what have I got to lose?

The impact of the clinical trial on her treatment:
My cancer has stabilized – it’s not growing or spreading at this point. Before enrolling in the clinical trial, I was on pain medication. For the most part, I’ve gone off that; I just need ibuprofen sometimes. Although I’m quite certain my cancer can’t be cured, this treatment is helping me live with it.

What the clinical trial means for her:
When I first met Dr. Ellis, he told me there now is a lot of hope for someone my age with breast cancer. And hope is what I have – for a longer life, for a better quality of life, for more time spent with family and friends.”
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