NHL Treatments and Clinical Trials Archive

When it comes to treatment, NHL patients and their care partners have much to consider. There are often many options available, each with advantages and disadvantages. Some people may seek clinical trials, others may have few feasible options. Understanding treatment options, goals, and what to expect are vital to achieving the best possible outcome for you.

More resources for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) Treatments and Clinical Trials from Patient Empowerment Network.

A How-To On Reading Scientific Papers

“Be skeptical. But when you get proof, accept proof.” – Michael Specter

That quote is from Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, where New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter examined the distrust of science that’s turned discussion of scientific topics into a potential minefield. Some good examples of that minefield are climate change, and childhood vaccinations.

Anyone interested in scientific progress – full disclosure, I’m in that group – needs to understand the ideas being explored in scientific papers, the dispatches from the front lines of scientific thinking and discovery. To arrive at that understanding, you have to be able to understand what you’re reading, and I’ll be the first to admit that isn’t easy.

Scientific papers are written by scientists, for scientists, and follow a set of rules and formal structures that can feel like they’re designed to prevent any understanding by the average Joe/Jane “just plain human.” In this post, my goal is to help anyone interested in, but not formally trained in, science tackle reading – and understanding! – an article in any scientific journal.

10 steps to scientific (article) understanding

  1. Check the source

    • What journal is publishing the article? Check Beall’s List, and if the journal appears there, you can stop reading – it’s a fake journal.
    • Who is the lead author, and what organization or institution is s/he affiliated with? If it’s an established university or research institute (University of Chicago or Scripps Institute, for example), keep reading.
  2. Read the introduction first, not the abstract

    • The introduction will reveal the Big Question, the one that the research project worked to reveal the answer to. For instance, an article in the Christmas 2017 issue of The BMJ reports on research into the effects of pet ownership on human biomarkers of ageing; the introduction clearly lays out the Big Question as “ we examined the prospective link between pet ownership and a selected range of objective biomarkers of ageing proposed for use in large scale population based studies of older people.”
  3. Write out your own summary of what the research was examining

    • This will give you a grasp of why the researchers wanted to ask the Big Question, and a framework for assessing what their answers to that question are.
  4. Identify the null hypothesis

    • The null hypothesis could really be better termed the “nullifiable” hypothesis, since the purpose of the research project is to nullify the hypothesis that there are no differences in possible answers to the Big Question.
    • An example of a null hypothesis is “the world is flat,” which is what Copernicus worked to scientifically disprove a while back. He was successful, but there are some people who still reject his conclusions. (Warning: opening that link might be hazardous to your sanity.)
  5. Look at the approach, and the methods, used in the research study or experiment(s)

    • What did the researchers do to answer the Big Question? What specific experiments did they run?
    • Sketch out diagrams of each experiment or data crunch.
  6. Read the results section of the article

    • Look at the written results, as well as all charts and figures related to those results.
    • What are the sample sizes? Really small sample sizes are a red flag.
    • What results are listed as “significant,” and what as “non-significant”? If you want to totally geek out on this topic, this post will make your geeky day.
  7. Do the results actually answer the Big Question?

    • Using your own judgment, do you think the study authors have answered the question asked in the introduction?
    • Do this before you read the paper’s conclusion.
  8. Does the conclusion make sense, in light of everything you’ve read and evaluated while going through the paper?

    • Do you agree with the conclusion?
    • Can you identify an alternative explanation for the results in the article?
    • What are the next steps the authors see emerging from their research?
  9. Read the abstract at the beginning of the paper

    • In light of the work you did in Steps 1 through 8, does the abstract line up with what the authors said their research purpose was?
    • Does it fit with your own interpretation of the paper?
  10. What are other scientists saying about the paper?

    • Have other scientists written about this paper?
    • What other research is referenced in the paper?
    • Have the authors of that research weighed in on the paper you’re evaluating?

Reading, and understanding, scientific papers takes practice. It’s also fun, if you’re a science nerd, or just interested in new scientific discoveries. And it’s work worth doing, because the more you know, the more likely it is that you yourself might make a discovery that makes a difference.

Paying It Forward: Volunteering for Clinical Trials

Editor’s Note: This blog and video is from the Alliance for Aging Research. The Alliance for Aging Research is dedicated to accelerating the pace of scientific discoveries and their application to vastly improve the universal human experience of aging and health.

Getting medical discoveries from the research lab to patients depends on clinical trials and the people who volunteer to participate in them.  Volunteering in a trial may help society at large by bringing new treatments one step closer to patients, and could help a loved one if you have a genetic disease or condition.  Volunteering may also give you access to a cutting-edge treatment and medical team that carefully monitors your health.  But clinical trials can’t happen without volunteers, and 37% of trials don’t enroll enough patients to move forward.  Clinical trials need volunteers like you so watch this short film to find out more about why they are important, how to get involved, and what it means to participate.

How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper

In a previous article, How to Read Beyond the Headline: 9 Essential Questions to Evaluate Medical News, I recommended you should always try to read an original study (if cited) to evaluate the information presented. In this follow-on article, you will learn how to read a scientific research paper so that you can come to an informed opinion on the latest research in your field of interest.  Understanding research literature is an important skill for patient advocates, and as with any skill, it can be learned with practice and time.

Let’s start by looking at what exactly we mean by the term “scientific paper”. Scientific papers are written reports describing original research findings. They are published in peer reviewed journals, which means they have been refereed by at least two other experts (unpaid and anonymized) in the field of study in order to determine the article’s scientific validity.

You may also come across the following types of scientific papers in the course of your research.

•       Scientific review papers are also published in peer reviewed journals, but seek to synthesize and summarize the work of a particular sub-field, rather than report on new results.

•       Conference proceedings, which may be published in a journal, are referred to as the “Proceedings of Conference X”. They will sometimes go through peer review, but not always.

•       Editorials, commentaries and letters to the editor offer a review or critique of original articles. They are not peer-reviewed.

Most scientific journals follow the IMRD format, meaning its publications will usually consist of an Abstract followed by:

•       Introduction

•       Methods

•       Results

•       Discussion

 

Let’s look at each of these sections in turn.

(a) Introduction  

The Introduction should provide you with enough information to understand the article. It should establish the scientific significance of the study and demonstrate a relevant context for the current study.  The scope and objectives of the study should be clearly stated.

When reading the Introduction, ask yourself the following questions:

·       What specific problem does this research address?

·       Why is this study important?

(b) Methods

The Methods section outlines how the work was done to answer the study’s hypothesis. It should explain new methodology in detail and types of data recorded.

As you read this section, look for answers to the following questions:

  • What procedures were followed?
  • Are the treatments clearly described?
  • How many people did the research study include? In general, the larger a study the more you can trust its results. Small studies may miss important differences because they lack statistical power. Case studies (i.e. those based on single patients or single observations) are no longer regarded as scientific rigorous.
  • Did the study include a control group? A control group allows researchers to compare outcomes in those who receive a treatment with those who don’t.

 (c) Results

The Results section presents the study’s findings.  It should follow a logical sequence to answer the study hypothesis.  Pay careful attention to any data sets shown in graphs, tables, and diagrams. Try to interpret the data first before reading the captions and details.  If you are unfamiliar with statistics, you will find a helpful glossary of terms here.  Click here for an online guide to help you understand key concepts of statistics and how these concepts relate to the scientific method and research.

Consider the following questions:

  • Are the findings supported by persuasive evidence?
  • Is there an alternative way to interpret these findings?

(d) Discussion 

The Discussion places the study in the context of the broader field of research. It should explain how the research has moved the body of scientific knowledge forward and outline the next steps for further study.

Questions to ask:

•       Does the study have any limitations? Limitations are the conditions or influences that cannot be controlled by the researcher.  Any limitations that might influence the results should be mentioned in the study’s findings.

  • How are the findings new or supportive of other work in the field?
  • What are some of the specific applications of the study’s findings?

The IMRD format provides you with a useful framework to read a scientific paper. You will need to read a paper several times to understand its findings. Consider your first reading of the study as a “big picture” reading.  Scan the Abstract for a summary of the study’s principal objectives, the methods it used and the principal conclusions. A well-written abstract should allow you to identify the basic content of an article to determine its relevance to you.  In describing how she determines the relevance of a study, research RN, Katy Hanlon, focuses on “key words and phrases first. Those that relate to the author/s base proposal as well as my own interests”.  Medical writer, Nora Cutcliffe, also scans upfront “to gauge power and relevance of clinical trial data”. She looks for “study enrollment (n), country and year”. It’s important to note the publication date to determine if this article contains the latest findings or if there is more up-to-date research available. Cutcliffe also advises you should “note author affiliations and study sponsors”.  Here you are looking out for any potential bias or vested interest in a particular outcome.  Check the Acknowledgments section to see if the author(s) declare any financial interests in the research which might bias their findings. Finally, check if the article is published in a credible journal.  You will find reputable biomedical journals indexed by Pubmed and Web of Science.

Next, circle or take note of any scientific terms or keywords you don’t understand and look up their meaning before your second reading. Scan the References section – you may even want to read an article listed here first to help you better understand the current study.

With the second reading you are going to deepen your comprehension of the study. You’ll want to highlight key points, consult the references, and take notes as you read.  According to the scientific publisher, Elsevier, “reading a scientific paper should not be done in a linear way (from beginning to end); instead, it should be done strategically and with a critical mindset, questioning your understanding and the findings.”  Scientist, Dr Jennifer Raff, agrees. “When I’m choosing papers to read, I decide what’s relevant to my interests based on a combination of the title and abstract”, she writes in How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists. “But when I’ve got a collection of papers assembled for deep reading, I always read the abstract last”. Raff explains she does this “because abstracts contain a succinct summary of the entire paper, and I’m concerned about inadvertently becoming biased by the authors’ interpretation of the results”.

When you have read the article through several times, try to distill it down to its scientific essence, using your own words. Write down the key points you have gleaned from your reading such as the purpose of the study, main findings and conclusions. You might find it helpful to develop a template for recording notes, or adapt the template below for use. You will then have a useful resource to find the correct reference and to cross reference when you want to consult an article in the future.

In the example below I have taken an article published in 2015, as an example. You can read the paper Twitter Social Media is an Effective Tool for Breast Cancer Patient Education and Support: Patient-Reported Outcomes by Survey on PubMed.

Template for Taking Notes on Research Articles

 

 

Further reading

How Do You Find Out About Clinical Trials?

Interview with Larry Anderson, Jr., MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Patient Advocate, Lynette, and Robert Orlowski, MD, PhD, Director of Myeloma and Professor in the Departments of Lymphoma/Myeloma and Experimental Therapeutics The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

From  the Virtual Town Meeting: Understanding the New World of Myeloma Treatment, Andrew Schorr first ask Dr. Anderson about how patients can find out about clinical trials, whether that be a governmental website, advocacy groups, or each institution’s individual website. Later he gets Lynette and Dr. Orlowski’s opinion on the matter. Check out the full video below to hear from three myeloma experts.

How Do You Find Out About Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Nothing About Us Without Us: Patient Involvement in Research

Until recently, patient participation in research was limited to their involvement as subjects enrolled in research studies, but there is a shift occurring as funding bodies increasingly look for evidence of patient and public involvement (PPI) in research proposals. The rationale for this is increasing evidence that PPI in the provision of healthcare leads to improved outcomes and better quality of care.

Assumptions are made every day about patients; assumptions which may lead to a failure to deliver optimum care. When these assumptions extend to research, quite often there is a mismatch between the questions that patients want answers to and the ones that researchers are investigating. As an example, the research priorities of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, and the clinicians looking after them, were shown in a study to favor more rigorous evaluation of physiotherapy and surgery, and assessment of educational and coping strategies. Only 9% of patients wanted more research on drugs, yet over 80% of randomized controlled trials in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were drug evaluations. PPI recognizes that patients bring a unique perspective and experience to the decision-making process in research. It is paternalistic and patronizing to rely on speculation about patient experience. By considering the actual experience of patients, researchers can make more informed research decisions. Involving patients is an important step in ensuring that the real life experiences of patients are considered when it comes to setting research priorities. This in turn will increase the relevance of research to patients and improve research quality and outcomes.

As an advocate you may be asked to become involved in a research project, so it is important to have a clear understanding of what PPI is – and what it isn’t. PPI is not about being recruited as a participant in a clinical trial or other research project, donating sample material for research, answering questionnaires or providing opinions. PPI describes a variety of ways that researchers engage with people for whom their research holds relevance. It spans a spectrum of involvement which may include any of the following:

  • Being involved in defining the research question
  • Being a co-applicant in a research proposal
  • Working with funders to review patient-focused section of applications
  • Being an active member of a steering group for a research study
  • Providing your input into a study’s conception and design
  • Contributing to/proofing of documentation
  • Assisting in the implementation and dissemination of research outcomes
  • Improving access to patients via peer networks and accessing difficult-to-reach patients and groups

Effective PPI transforms the traditional research hierarchy in which studies are done to, on, or for participants into a partnership model in which research is carried out with or by patients.  PPI should always involve meaningful patient participation and avoid tokenism. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) describes PPI as fostering a climate in which researchers, health care providers, decision-makers and policy-makers understand the value of patient involvement and patients see the value of these interactions. Underpinning this framework are the following guiding principles for integrating patient engagement into research:

  • Inclusiveness:Patient engagement in research integrates a diversity of patient perspectives and research is reflective of their contribution.
  • Support:Adequate support and flexibility are provided to patient participants to ensure that they can contribute fully to discussions and decisions. This implies creating safe environments that promote honest interactions, cultural competence, training, and education. Support also implies financial compensation for their involvement.
  • Mutual Respect:Researchers, practitioners and patients acknowledge and value each other’s expertise and experiential knowledge.
  • Co-Build:Patients, researchers and practitioners work together from the beginning to identify problems and gaps, set priorities for research and work together to produce and implement solutions.

Derek Stewart, a patient advocate and Associate Director for Patient and Public Involvement at NIHR Clinical Research Network, sees a growing momentum of actively involving patients and public in research gathering pace worldwide. “It is really pleasing to hear researchers saying how valuable it has been to involve patients and the public in their work”, he says. “It has equally improved the quality of the research and enriched their own thinking and understanding.”

Earlier this year, PCORnet, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, announced its first demonstration study which reflects PCORnet’s aims of patient engagement and open science. ADAPTABLE (Aspirin Dosing: A Patient-centric Trial Assessing Benefits and Long-Term Effectiveness) will compare the effect of two different aspirin doses given to prevent heart attacks and strokes in high-risk patients with a history of heart disease. Seeking input at every critical step, from consent design and protocol development, through dissemination of final study results, the project represents a new research paradigm. Unprecedented in the design of clinical trials, the final consent form and protocol were shaped with input from patients, local institutional review boards, physicians, and study coordinators.

Another noteworthy example of PPI can be found in the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project a direct-to-patients initiative launched at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard last October. Corrie Painter, an angiosarcoma patient and Associate Director of Operations and Scientific Outreach at Broad Institute, explains that “the project seeks to greatly accelerate the pace of biomedical research by empowering patients to directly contribute to research and was built in lock step from design to consent language with dozens of patients.”

To what extent you may wish to be involved in PPI will depend on several factors. Do you have professional experience (e.g. project management, clinical experience, etc.) which would be useful? Are you happy to work as part of a team? Or would you prefer to work on your own? You should also take into consideration your other work or family commitments. For instance will you need to take time off work to attend meetings? Consider also at what point you are in your own health journey. Will participation in research place an added burden on your treatment or recovery? In making the decision to become involved in research, you should always balance your own health needs with the desire to be supportive of research and the research process.


Useful links

PCORI www.pcori.org

PCORnet www.pcornet.org

Metastatic Breast Cancer Project www.mbcproject.org

#WhyWeDoResearch www.whywedoresearch.weebly.com

How to Read Beyond the Headline: 9 Essential Questions to Evaluate Medical News

Ben Goldacre writing in Bad Science classified science reporting as falling into three categories – wacky stories, scare stories and breakthrough stories; the last of which he views as ”a more subtly destructive category of science story”. Whether you get your news through digital or traditional means, you can’t fail to notice the regularity with which journalists report on the latest medical breakthroughs. Some of these reports are sensationalist (“coffee causes cancer”) and fairly easy to dismiss; but do you know how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to less sensationalist headlines?

The foundation of empowered patient-hood is built on reliable health information. This means not only knowing where to find medical information, but being able to evaluate it and knowing how it can be applied to your own, or your loved-ones’ particular circumstances. Headlines often mislead people into thinking a certain substance or activity will prevent or cure chronic disease. As patient advocates we must learn to read beyond the headlines to filter out the good, the bad, and the questionable. The following questions are designed to help sort the signal from the noise next time you read the latest news story heralding a medical breakthrough.

1. Does the article support its claims with scientific research?

Your first concern should be the research behind the news article. If an article contains no link to scientific research to support its claims, then be very wary about treating those claims as scientifically credible.

2. What is the original source of the article?

If the article cites scientific research you should still treat the findings with caution. Always consider the source. Find out where the study was done. Who paid for and conducted the study? Is there a potential conflict of interest?

3. Does the article contain expert commentary to back up claims?

Look for expert independent commentary from doctors or other healthcare providers to explain the findings (there should be an independent expert source quoted – someone not directly connected with the research).

4. Is this a conference presentation?

Journalists frequently report on research presented at large scientific meetings. It’s important to realize that this research may only be at a preliminary stage and may not fulfill its early promise.

5. What kind of clinical trial is being reported on?

If the news relates to results from a clinical trial, it’s important you understand how, or even if, the results apply to you. Quite often, news publications report on trials which have not yet been conducted on humans. Many drugs that show promising results in animals don’t work in humans. Cancer.Net and American Cancer Society have useful guides to understanding the format of cancer research studies.

6. What stage is the trial at?

Research studies must go through several phases before a treatment can be considered safe and effective; but many times journalists report on early phase trials as if these hold all the answers. The testing process in humans is divided into several phases:

  •  Phase I trials: Researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects.
  • Phase II trials: The drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety.
  • Phase III trials: The drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely.

Source: ClinicalTrials.gov

7. How many people did the research study include?

In general, the larger a study the more you can trust its results. Small studies may miss important differences because they lack statistical power.

8. Did the study include a control group?

A control group allows researchers to compare outcomes in those who receive a treatment with those who don’t. The gold standard is a “randomised controlled trial”, a study in which participants are randomly allocated to receive (or not receive) a particular intervention (e.g. a treatment or a placebo).

9. What are the study’s limitations?

Many news stories fail to point out the limitations of the evidence. The limitations of a study are the shortcomings, conditions or influences that cannot be controlled by the researcher. Any limitations that might influence the results should be mentioned in the study’s findings, so always read the original study where possible.

Useful Resources

  • Gary Schweitzer’s Health News Review website provides many useful resources to help you determine the trustworthiness of medical news. To date, it has reviewed more than 1,000 news stories concerning claims made for treatments, tests, products and procedures.
  • Sense about Science works with scientists and members of the public to equip people to make sense of science and evidence. It responds to hundreds of requests for independent advice and questions on scientific evidence each year.
  • Trust It or Trash is a tool to help you think critically about the quality of health information (including websites, handouts, booklets, etc.).
  • Understanding Health Research (UHR) is a free service created with the intention of helping people better understand health research in context. It gives clear and understandable explanations of important considerations like sampling, bias, uncertainty and replicability.

MyLifeLine: Learn About Clinical Trials

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published here on MyLifeLine.org. The mission of MyLifeLine.org is to empower cancer patients and caregivers to build an online support community of family and friends to foster connection, inspiration, and healing through free, personalized websites.

Learn About Clinical Trials

MLL ACT

Why consider a cancer clinical trial?

What clinical trials can offer, from the care you receive to the impact you can make.

Clinical trials offer a chance to receive investigational medicines or procedures that experts think might improve the treatment of cancer. This important option is not limited to people who have run out of choices. In fact, there may be clinical trials for every stage of disease in dozens of cancer types. In this video, patients and doctors share their perspectives on why joining a clinical trial may be an option worth considering.


“To have the opportunity to go on a clinical trial for a patient is extremely exciting.” —Sandra Swain, MD; oncologist


Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 10.23.06 AM
Concern:
I don’t want to be a guinea pig for an experimental treatment.
The Truth:
Cancer clinical trials are developed with high medical and ethical standards, and participants are treated with care and with respect for their rights.

Concern:
I’m afraid i might receive a sugar pill or no treatment at all.
 The Truth:Cancer clinical trials rarely use placebo alone if an effective treatment is available; doing so is unethical.

Concern:
Cancer clinical trials are only for people with no other treatment options.
 The Truth:Trials can study everything from prevention to early- and late-stage treatment, and they may be an option at any point after your diagnosis.

Concern:
I’m worried that I won’t receive quality care in a cancer clinical trial.
 The Truth:Many procedures are in place to help you receive quality care in a cancer clinical trial.

Concern:
People might access private information about me if I participate.
 The Truth:In nearly all cancer clinical trials, patients are identified by codes so that their privacy is protected throughout and after the study.

Concern:
I’m afraid that my health insurance will not help with the costs of a cancer clinical trial.
 The Truth:
Many costs are covered by insurance companies and the study sponsor, and financial support is often available to help with other expenses; talk to your doctor to understand what costs you could be responsible for.

Concern:
Informed consent only protects researchers and doctors, not patients.
 The Truth:
Informed consent is a full explanation of the trial that includes a statement that the study involves research and is voluntary, and explanations of the possible risks, the possible benefits, how your medical information may be used, and more. Informed consent does not require you to give up your right to protection if the medical team is negligent or does something wrong.

Concern:
I’m afraid that once i join a cancer clinical trial, there’s no way out.
 The Truth:
You have the right to refuse treatment in a cancer clinical trial or to stop treatment at any time without penalty

How to know if a cancer clinical trial is right for you.

There are many factors to keep in mind when considering a cancer clinical trial.

As with any important decision, it’s a good idea to think about the risks and benefits of joining a cancer clinical trial. This video encourages you to ask your medical team about all of your treatment options, including cancer clinical trials. Trial participants, doctors, and patient advocates explain the factors you’ll want to keep in mind as you consider your treatment plan.


“I’ve always advised patients…when the circumstances weren’t urgent, to take time to understand their disease and to evaluate the alternatives.”  —Sandra Horning, MD; oncologist and chief medical officer


What to ask your doctor(s)

Asking The Right Questions Keeps You Involved In Your Care

A cancer diagnosis is often overwhelming, and it’s sometimes hard to gather your thoughts and know the right questions to ask. This video talks you through some of the questions it will be helpful to ask about your cancer, your treatment options, your doctor, and about whether participating in a cancer clinical trial is right for you.


“Talk to your doctor and say, ‘Tell me my full options.’ Raise questions. Be a pain in the neck. That’s what the doctor is there for.” —Arthur Caplan, PhD; medical ethicist


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Rules And Procedures Are In Place So That You Will Receive High-Quality Care

Before a single patient can join a trial, many different experts must approve every detail of the study—from why it’s being done to how often patients should be monitored. Once the trial begins, more unbiased experts provide oversight to check that the rules of the trial are being followed and patients’ rights are protected. This video features doctors and patient rights advocates explaining the high standards by which trials are developed and run.


“I explain…that when they’re on a clinical trial, they’re going to be followed very closely by…specific guidelines.” —Daniel P. McKellar, MD; surgeon and Commission on Cancer chairman


Informed Consent Describes The Study Process, Potential Risks And Benefits, And Your Rights As A Participant

If you are eligible and decide to join a trial, you will be required to review and sign the informed consent forms. This can be an overwhelming process, but it is how you will learn all the details of the trial, including the potential benefits and the possible risks, and give your permission to be treated. This video features patients, doctors, and patient rights advocates who offer tips and insights to help you navigate the process of informed consent.


“When I received the stack of papers…it made me realize this is really serious. But then…it was actually a good feeling to know that this was not something that was being done lightly.” —Rose Gerber; trial participant


Information And Support Are Close At Hand

Because so many people have been affected by cancer, there are many reliable and helpful resources to help you through your cancer journey. In this video, trial participants and doctors help you find the people and resources that may be helpful in educating you about cancer clinical trials.


“The first thing is to hold on tight and be optimistic and to get very engaged and educated about your cancer.” —Jack Whelan; trial participant


Reliable Resources To Help Along The Way

First, talk to your doctor

Your healthcare team is the best source for information about your treatment options, including cancer clinical trials. There are many questions you’ll want to ask your healthcare team when you’re ready to discuss treatment options. Print this helpful Discussion Guide and bring it to your next appointment so that you don’t forget anything important. Record your answers on the form and keep it handy for future reference.


Where to find information about cancer clinical trials

These clinical trial resources will help you find trials that might be right for you.


Support services

These trustworthy sources provide assistance with trial-related costs, which may not always be covered by insurance.

Practical support

Financial support

Additional nationwide support organizations


Don’t go it alone

There are millions of people just like you who are ready to ACT against cancer. These organizations provide advocacy, information, awareness, fundraising opportunities, and a community of like-minded people touched by cancer.

Heading Off Cancer Growth on the Cellular Level

Cancer cells are like all the cells in our body, in that they need certain basic building blocks – amino acids – in order to reproduce. There are 20 amino acids found in nature. The amino acid serine is often found in abundance in patients with certain types of breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma. The overproduction of this amino acid is often required for the rapid and unregulated growth characteristic of cancer.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) wondered if there was a way to take advantage of the relationship between cancer cell proliferation and serine. Amy GrayThey examined a large library of molecules -numbering 800,000 – to find an enzyme that inhibited serine production. After much research, the group found 408 contenders that could possibly work. This list was again narrowed down to a smaller set of seven, ending with one promising candidate. This molecule, 3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH), seemed to inhibit the first step in a cancer cell’s use of serine to reproduce itself.

Luke L. Lairson, assistant professor of chemistry at TSRI and principal investigator of cell biology at the California Institute for Biomedical Research remarked, “In addition to discovering an inhibitor that targets cancer metabolism, we also now have a tool to help answer interesting questions about serine metabolism.”

What does this mean for cancer patients in the future?

Discovering an enzyme that inhibits serine production means that a key process in cancer cell proliferation can be slowed down or even stopped.   Interfering with cancer cell metabolism could be a pathway to treatment. Potentially, adding the molecule PHGDH to cancer cells disturbs the basic need of cancer cells to divide and reproduce rapidly. Obviously this finding points to years of further research and drug development. But discovering this key relationship between serine over-production and a molecule that slows it down could be a model for new cancer treatments in the future.


References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3989988/

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-03-team-approach-curbing-cancer-cell.html

Improving Clinical Trial Design

Interview With Dr. Michael Thompson (@MTMDPhD), Medical Director, Early Phase Cancer Research Program, University of Wisconsin

Carol Preston’s interview with Dr. Michael Thompson discusses issues related to clinical trial design. The obstacles to good patient-centric clinical trial design are numerous. The informed consent is a text-only legal-type document containing difficult to understand verbiage. Instead, it should be more patient-friendly, with images, graphics and easy-to-understand instructions.

Patients are becoming more empowered and more aware of the issues and are speaking out and willing to participate to make clinical trial design more patient-friendly and effective. More patients are aware of trials and want to educate and inform others. Clinical trial design and informed consent need to be updated and made more efficient so that more patients will be able to easily consider clinical trial enrollment.

Check out the full conversation and the rest of Dr. Thompson’s ideas in the video below:

Improving Clinical Trial Design from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why So Few Adults in Clinical Trials?

Interview With Dr. Michael Thompson (@MTMDPhD), Medical Director, Early Phase Cancer Research Program, University of Wisconsin

In Carol Preston’s interview with Dr. Michael Thompson, he states that about 60% of children participate in clinical trials, but only 3-5% of adults do. So, the question becomes, why are there so few adults participating in clinical trials? What are the adults afraid of? Dr. Thompson goes through some of the reasons why adults do not participate as much in clinical trials as much as children:

  • Patients do not qualify for the available trial
  • Patients believe trials require more testing, resulting in more travel and higher costs
  • Patients think trials may require too much effort on their part
  • Many patients distrust clinical trials
  • Patients don’t believe in the drugs
  • Many patients are not even aware of available clinical trials
  • Patients are afraid of receiving a placebo
  • Patients are afraid of having adverse side effects from the medication

Check out the full video below as Dr. Thompson further discusses this topic and how trial enrollment statistics could change through patient education and engagement. If cancer patients are informed about what clinical trials could offer them, or if they are able to ask questions, more adult patients may be more willing to participant in these trials.

Why are Patients Afraid of Enrolling in Clinical Trials- from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

Interview of V.K. Gadi, MD, PhD Associate Member, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Dr. Gadi is interviewed on the importance of self-advocacy by cancer patients. He explains that historically, the doctor/patient relationship has been paternalistic, but such is not the case anymore. Now, Dr. Gadi learns just as much from his patients as from other sources. When patients are empowered with knowledge about their disease, they will be better equipped to carry on an intelligent conversation with their medical team and better understand the rationale for their treatment plan.

Dr. Gadi encourages patients to learn and to self-advocate in order to better understand their treatment options and help choose the best care available to them.

The Importance of Patient Self-Advocacy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can Digital Wearables Help in Clinical Trials?

Today’s healthcare consumer can log and produce a range of data through wearable devices, smart fabrics, and intelligent sensors that are worn on the body or incorporated into garments and accessories, such as wristbands and watches. To date, wearables have been limited to tracking information related to health and fitness, but as the technology behind wearables for healthcare evolves, there is a growing interest in its potential in medical settings. New wearables show promise for addressing a range of medical conditions from diabetes to dementia. When applied to clinical trials, wearable technology is a potentially powerful research tool to gather clinical data in real-time and provide remote patient monitoring.

digital wearables

photo from http://www.alivecor.com/home

The clinical trials process could be optimized by leveraging existing smart technology, such as electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors like AliveCor, which enables anytime recording of ECGs; and smart pill technology (also known as “ingestibles”) which allows for both wireless patient monitoring and diagnostic imaging. Digital health company Proteus Digital has developed FDA approved wearable and ingestible sensors that work together to detect ingestions and physiologic data. The sensor is taken alongside medications, and is powered by the body’s biochemistry. The patch, body-worn and disposable, receives the data from the ingestible sensor, tracking medication-taking, steps, activity, rest, and heart rate and forwards that information to a Bluetooth enabled mobile device. If life science companies can get enough insight early in development, they can potentially create a more efficient drug development process and prioritize resources for the most promising therapies, with the goal of getting effective drugs to market faster.

Clinical use adoption will depend on ease of use, relevance and accuracy. Google’s life sciences division at Google X is in the process of developing a wearable health sensor specifically for use in clinical trials. The developers, who have already created a glucose-sensing contact lens, want to see how a continuous stream of medical-grade measurements of biological signals could be used to help earlier diagnosis or intervention in disease. The prototype wrist-worn sensor measures pulse, activity level, and skin temperature, alongside environmental information like light exposure and noise levels. Right now, it isn’t clear how Google’s prototype device will collect, analyse, and interpret data and incorporate information into a clinical trial data feed.  Issues of data standards and security will also need to be worked through. Google is in the early stages of the project, which will work with academic researchers and drug makers to test the wristband’s accuracy and seek regulatory clearance in the U.S. and Europe. The project will also draw on Google’s ongoing Baseline study, a medical and genomics project involving Stanford University and Duke University, which aims to map a healthy human body. Google Baseline will use a combination of genetic testing and digital health sensors to collect “baseline” data on healthy people. The project aims to establish genetic biomarkers relating to how we metabolize food, nutrients and drugs, how fast our hearts beat under stress, and how chemical reactions change the behavior of our genes.

Google’s wearable prototype, and other similar existing wearable devices, could give researchers insights that are currently only available intermittently (e.g. via a diagnostic test, or when a patient is being observed in a clinical setting).   Using sensors and wearables, drug efficacy and clinical trials outcomes might be better assessed through a variety of data points. It also allows for more objective measurement of data. For instance, obtaining objective metrics of hours of sleep in a clinical trial can be difficult to measure in a traditional trial setting when patients record this information at home. Being able to measure hours of sleep objectively through a wearable device could provide more complete data, although researchers still need to consider the context within which all data is captured. Having structured analysis of supplementary data may provide the additional evidence needed to show the benefits of a certain drug. However, more data does not necessarily translate into better data. The use of a wearable device alone does not add value to the clinical trial process. The real value lies in the ability to extract raw data and leverage real-time analytics to monitor trial progress in the moment, thereby facilitating early intervention which may reduce trial risks. In addition, continuous tracking of vital signs outside of a laboratory provides patients with better support through remote patient monitoring. Wearable technology’s transformative potential therefore lies not with the wearable itself, but with the real-time response to the data it collects.

As the healthcare ecosystem continues to shift to patient-centered care, a key consideration in designing the clinical trial of the future is the ability to make the process highly responsive and seamlessly connected to the patient’s every-day life. Currently the clinical trials process is inconvenient for participants; both in terms of time spent travelling to and from the trial location, and the time required to log physiological and drug reactions. Wearable devices can reduce the number of times patients need to go to a clinic and can provide a better, fuller picture of physiological data needed to measure a drug’s impact. Medidata and Garmin are collaborating to use Garmin’s activity tracker —the vivofit — in clinical studies. The vivofit measures steps taken, calories burned, and hours slept to capture patient data during clinical trials 24/7, without the need for clinic visits. The clinical trial data it collects is integrated with the Medidata Clinical Cloud repository that includes information such as vitals, medical histories, laboratories, and adverse events. Used in this way, wearables not only lead to increased data, but through remote monitoring, can reduce interruptions in a volunteer’s day.

Clinical trials are often criticized for not being sufficiently patient-centric. Innovating through the use of wearable devices can address this challenge by streamlining the process and creating greater patient engagement. The Clinical Innovation team at Eli Lilly recently offered a glimpse into the future through an interactive and immersive clinical trial simulation for Stanford Medicine X conference attendees. The team highlighted design considerations for remote clinical trials, as well as working prototypes for a mobile patient trial app, provider trial app, and a medical-grade biosensor. In order to contextualize and make data actionable, the design team at Eli Lilly is working on a closed-loop system that triggers an alert when certain metric points are activated, thereby allowing for real-time adjustments to be made.

Making the clinical trial process more convenient and connected through wearable devices could potentially explode the sample size of clinical studies, not just numerically, but also in terms of diversity – gender, ethnic, geographic, economic. We might then begin to get a more stratified picture of individual variation; hard to do with current methods of traditional clinical studies. The large uptake of Apple’s ResearchKit (an open source software framework for app development) on its release earlier this year, signals a greater willingness to take part in research when tools are designed to make participation easier. Within a day of ResearchKit’s launch, 11,000 volunteers signed up for a Stanford University cardiovascular trial; an unprecedented uptake. At the time, Stanford said it would normally take a national year-long effort to get that kind of scale.  However impressive these numbers are, a large test sample only matters if there are enough quality results. Furthermore, diversity is compromised if lower socioeconomic populations are excluded through restricting sampling to people that are iPhone users. If the very people who tend to be most affected by chronic diseases are excluded, research will be skewed toward a demographic that is markedly different than the one typically affected by the target disease. Still the future looks hopeful. With any study, there are challenges around how representative the study cohort is. The expectation is that smartphone apps, wearable devices, and biosensors can make the clinical trials process more responsive to volunteers, expand recruitment, and make the data source richer.

Challenges and Opportunities

The clinical trial of the future will increasingly take place outside the walls of the clinic. Tailored to the patient’s lifestyle, wearables can lead to increased patient engagement and ultimately bigger and smarter data. Trial volunteers will wear a device that continuously measures their activity and provides a complete picture of movement without having to disrupt their day. Physicians and researchers will have access to a much richer, more objective data set, thereby providing a real-world, real-time measure of patient physiology and how a drug affects quality of life. This will allow us to have a more holistic view of the patient than we have ever had before.

Wearables are emerging as a tool for creating a more responsive and efficient clinical trial process. At the same time, wearable devices can increase the volume and speed of data collection through a more seamless collection of large quantities of longitudinal physiological measurement data. This approach to clinical trial management promises to significantly change how trials are conducted and increase the value of trial data. However, the challenge lies in how to unlock the data’s value to make it more actionable, contextualized and meaningful. How will researchers turn the sheer volume of data they collect into quantifiable safety and efficacy measures and endpoints? At this point wearables don’t yet offer the type of medical or diagnostic-quality data that’s necessary for most clinical trials. Researchers must ensure not just accuracy of data, but also be able to evaluate and identify the data pertinent to the clinical trial outcome. For instance, a sleep monitor on its own cannot contextualize the reason why people wake up – they may be having an asthmatic attack, or a bad dream, or simply need the bathroom, but the monitor registers each of these instances as the same event. Or take the scenario of a trial participant who transfers his/her activity tracker to someone else – what would happen to the validity of the data in this case? How can researchers handle patient device use and adherence variability?

Stakeholders must work together to determine how to best deploy wearable devices to patients, define standard use, mitigate variability of use, link the data from these devices to traditional clinical data, account for data collection in a non-controlled environment, and maintain privacy and data security. With much work still to be done to scientifically evaluate the real impact of wearables on clinical trial data, regulatory compliance in collecting clinical data outside of a controlled research environment is an on-going challenge. Wearables offer an opportunity to disrupt the clinical trial process, leading to a radical redesign of patient-centered clinical trials.  For now, we must learn to balance the hype which surrounds wearable technology with the operational and design challenges posed by standardizing and controlling the data collected for use in clinical trials. Focusing on these challenges will help to ground wearable technology in the reality of what is achievable, while the industry takes its first steps on the path toward designing next-generation clinical trials through wearables, and ultimately new ground-breaking drugs and treatments.

An Oncologist’s Perspective on Clinical Trials

(Editor’s note: This article is in 2 parts. This is Part 1 (go here to read Part 2) and consists of an interview of Dr. Anita Wolfer, Senior Oncologist and Head of Unit in Oncological Research, Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV). The interview was conducted by the “Indomitable” Christine Bienvenu, breast cancer patient, avid patient advocate and board member of the Patient Empowerment Foundation, our sister organization under development in Europe. And please, don’t be concerned that this is an interview with a European oncologist. You will be surprised to see that the issues, thoughts, concerns of patients and doctors are the same. These issues are worldwide!)

Great progress has been made today in immunotherapy and targeted therapies – especially in cancer research – thanks to patients having access to clinical trials. It is crucial that patients learn about their options.

Interview With Dr. Anita Wolfer

The Indomitable Christine Bienvenu

The Indomitable Christine Bienvenu

Christine Bienvenu (CB): How do clinicians learn about clinical trials?

Dr. Anita Wolfer (AW): It depends very much on where they’re working: Doctors in university hospitals are constantly informed of clinical trials. Their peers outside the hospital environment are not, though: It’s up to them to actively find clinical trials and stay informed.

 

CB: Here in Switzerland, are there formal protocols in place for spreading information about clinical trials?

AW: In terms of the medical system, there aren’t any formal protocols on doctors being up to date on clinical trial options. I think it’s important that university doctors take it upon themselves to keep their non-university environment peers informed. Often, unfortunately, those oncologists working outside the hospital environment only think of clinical trials when conventional treatments have failed. For researchers like us, it’s more second nature to turn to them for treatment options.

Here in Switzerland, the “Réseau Romand d’Oncologie” (Western Switzerland’s oncology network) centralizes all the information about clinical trials, and keeps it updated. For the new Swiss Cancer Center Lausanne (SCCL) opening in 2017, its director, Prof. Coukos’ vision is simple: All information – clinical trials, research, collaboration, and participatory medicine – should be accessible to patients and professionals alike.

 

CB: When and why do clinicians talk about clinical trials to their patients, and how do you view the patient’s role in trials?

AW: Often today, oncologists will only talk to a patient about clinical trials if they see that there’s a direct benefit to the patient. But in my view, it’s important to inform the patient of the clinical trial, regardless so that they too can look into the application process. In an ideal world – and I say this as an oncologist and clinical researcher – there would be a clinical trial for every patient who walks through our doors.

As for the patient’s role, I’m a firm believer that sharing is building in this profession. Patients are crucial in this process: No-one knows their bodies better than they do. The way I see it, any patient of mine gives me the opportunity to learn. I don’t want to waste that.

 

CB: What obstacles do clinicians face in conveying clinical trial information to their patients?

AW: Unfortunately, some oncologists are afraid that university doctors might “steal” their patients, so they don’t readily refer them for fear of losing income for their own hospital. With patients being so closely followed during the clinical trials as well, this is comforting: Often, they’d rather not go back to their ‘regular’ oncologist. In my view, it’s a shame to look at it that way: If there’s a relationship of confidence and trust with their primary oncologist, if patients know they will get all the necessary information, they’ll be more inclined to stay with their respective ‘regular’ oncologists. To be brutally honest, my feeling is if an oncologist is upset about a patient seeking a second opinion, then maybe it’s time to find a new oncologist? It happens in the medical profession: I’m not immune to it – no-one is. But it shouldn’t be an issue… Just like in any relationship, if the doctor/patient relationship isn’t working out for the patient, he or she has every right to move on.

 

CB: In your profession, how important is mindset – in both the patient and the doctor or clinician?

As in any profession, or with any patient or co-worker, there are always those who are willing and excited to go the extra mile. If the mindset to do so isn’t there, there really isn’t much that either a patient or an oncologist can do in terms of moving forward. A pro-active mindset is crucial.

 

CB: In the same vein, how important is mindset in clinical trials, then?

AW: Being convinced about the clinical trial is also very important – not only for the patient, but for the doctor. A well-informed doctor means a well-informed patient. Speaking for myself, I’m constantly on the lookout for the best treatment options for my patients – even if it’s a clinical trial outside the CHUV. Why wouldn’t I? It’s about moving forward in cancer research, not about being territorial with knowledge.

 

CB: What role, for you, does the sharing of information and access to clinical trials play in patient mindsets?

AW: Armed with information, most patients are willing to be a part of trials – even if it isn’t one they had specifically hoped for. Time and again, we’ve seen how patients who participate in clinical trials usually have better outcomes than patients who don’t. Beyond the obvious rigorous monitoring, the crucial element here is that the patients feel more responsible for, and engaged in, their care. What strikes me, time and again, is that clinical trials offer hope. And while not every clinical trial story is a positive one – with frustration and heartbreak often integral to the process – hope is a crucial element and great motivator.

 

CB: Getting into clinical trials is no small feat. What improvements, if any, would you suggest? Can patients be better-informed about clinical trials?

AW: In an ideal world, there would be a clinical trial for every patient. One of the objectives of the CHUV oncology department is to have a portfolio of trials so that there are alternatives for every patient. And despite limited resources, the department is working hard to open up a maximum of number of trials. Also, with the SCCL opening up in Lausanne, more research funding is coming in, and more specialised oncologists are coming on board.

 

CB: What for you is a key component of a successful patient/clinician or doctor relationship?

AW: Ultimately, it’s about trust, confidence and collaboration. And going back to your previous question, if patients feel they’re being fully supported by their oncologist, they’ll return to them – university hospital setting or not. To me, it’s extremely important that patients take the necessary steps to establish the relationship of trust that they seek.

 

CB: What feedback have your patients given you about their experiences in clinical trials?

AW: Some patients will say outright that they’re not interested. But the vast majority – I’d say 70-80% – are willing participants. So far, I’ve only ever had one patient tell me she wasn’t happy with a clinical trial. For most, it goes beyond participating for their own benefit, per se: it’s about being part of a greater cause and helping medical science advance. Patients are genuinely altruistic. What is clear, though, is that it’s a team effort that involves the patient and the medical community.

 

CB: Where can patients find information about clinical trials?

AW: There are a number of great resources out there. In no particular order, I can suggest the Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research (http://sakk.ch/en/) or Clinical Trials (https://clinicaltrials.gov/) which is a service of the US National Institutes of Health that lists all the studies being done in all 50 US States and in 190 countries.

Here in Switzerland, there are obviously the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV: http://www.chuv.ch/) or the Geneva University Hospital (HUG: http://www.hug-ge.ch/) websites. Experience has taught me that the university websites are sometimes a bit outdated, but patients can send emails directly to oncologists there and should get an answer.

 

CB: Any parting words of wisdom?

AW: Patients never doubt themselves in asking questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. If a patient isn’t having his or her questions answered, he or she has every right to find someone who will! Questions are crucial: They lead to greater understanding, knowledge, and progress.

Also, it’s important to remember that in Clinical Trials, limits have to be set to be able to provide realistic results. Make the criteria too broad, and it becomes difficult to show a trial’s effectiveness. With immunotherapy, clinical trials broaden patient eligibility. Granted, a patient needs to be healthy enough to be able to benefit from a trial, so if for example a patient is in palliative care, they wouldn’t be eligible – unless, of course, the clinical trial is in palliative care.

The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) “10 step guide on how to find a cancer treatment trial” helps patients better understand what clinical trials are all about, how to talk to their doctors, and know what questions to ask, visit: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials/search/trial-guide?cid=tw_NCIMain_nci_Clinical+Trials_sf39211784

Clinical Trials and Young Cancer Patients

Few Cancer Patients Enroll in Clinical Trials

It is well known that very few people with cancer actually enroll in clinical trials. This, for a myriad of reasons, including misconceptions, logistics, awareness, eligibility and fear.

Many patients lack awareness of what a clinical trial actually is, what it is for, and what is being tested.

Many healthcare professionals do not fully communicate information about clinical trial availability and participation when discussing treatment options with their patients.

Patient Advocacy organizations and other healthcare groups are trying to get the word out about clinical trials as a good treatment option and raise awareness. But progress is slow.

There are myths perpetuated about patients being “guinea pigs” in medical trials, or about patients being given “placebos” in the place of cancer medication. These myths need to be addressed and there are organizations and websites that do offer general answers to patient questions about trials. Patient Empowerment Network offers a FAQ page that addresses common questions about clinical trials. And ProjectInnovation offers a special section in their resource guide called, Debunking Common Myths About Cancer Clinical Trials.

Besides a lack of awareness and perceived misconceptions about clinical trials, there are logistics and eligibility obstacles that prove to be just too overwhelming for many patients. These obstacles are being addressed by many organizations, but again, progress is slow.

Do Younger Cancer Patients Experience the Same Preconceived Ideas About Trials?

Most cancer patients are older. What about the younger cancer patients? Do they feel the same way? Do they have the same misconceptions and the same fears? Do they also suffer from the same lack of awareness? Are they also overwhelmed by logistics and eligibility issues?

These are questions that StupidCancer and Bristol-Myers Squibb are trying to answer.

StupidCancer, founded by Matthew Zachary, is the largest charity that specifically focuses on young adult (age 15-39) cancer. There are 72,000 cases diagnosed each year of young adult cancer. This group suffers from a lack of awareness and understanding from the community around them. StupidCancer helps by building awareness, offering support and resources and generally getting the word out through advocacy, research, outreach, mobile health and social media.

Iamnotatrial Project

StupidCancer, in partnership with BMS, is embarking on a project called “iamnotatrial” that will feature young people between the ages of 15 and 44 years old who have completed a clinical trial in one or more of 15 cancer types. These clinical trial participants will be featured in a series of short videos that will tell their stories and relay their experience with clinical trials and will hopefully help build awareness and interest in clinical trials within the younger patient community.

When interviewed, a representative from StupidCancer explained that the goal of the iamnotatrial project is that by showing real patients and survivors telling their story in their own way, by video, that they can channel the energy of these patients and send it towards other patients who are taking action and looking for trials, enrolling and asking questions.

It is the hope and intention that viewers of the videos will become more aware that trials are a viable option, that there is diversity (gender and ethnicity) in trials and that there are many reasons to participate in trials- to help yourself as well as to help others.

Patients Helping Patients

Patients learn from patients like them. Patient stories are a powerful way of getting the message across. We are anxious to see these videos and champion their cause. We are anxious to help SupidCancer get the word out about clinical trials to their younger cancer audience.

Talk to your medical team and consider a clinical trial. It could be the best treatment option for you.

Clinical Trials 2.0: Reinventing Research For The Social Age

Clinical research is changing. No longer the sole preserve of clinicians and researchers, the Internet and new digital technologies are reinventing the way in which patients take part in the clinical trials process.

In the past decade there has been a revolution in how patients access health information. The Internet is increasingly the first port of call on our health-seeking journey. According to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life data, one in three U.S. adults have gone online to figure out a medical condition; 34% of Internet users have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog; and 18% of Internet users have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs.

“Clinical research” is among the most-searched terms on the Internet; yet every year hundreds of trials are delayed or abandoned because they can’t recruit enough patients. Poor rates of trial recruitment are a major obstacle to the successful and efficient completion of clinical trials. Insufficient recruitment of study participants may result in losing the statistical power of a predictive conclusion, as well as prolonging the time it takes to get the trial drug to market. Oncology trials in particular are failing to meet enrollment goals, with most delays in conducting trials stemming from recruitment. 85 percent of cancer patients don’t know trials are an option. 55 percent of clinical oncology sites fail to get a single patient because they simply can’t find them and one third of trials fail to recruit a single patient1.

Given that enrollment into a clinical trial is frequently the best treatment option for patients with cancer, how might we make more patients aware of the benefits of clinical trials? Combining the power of new technologies with social networking and patient activation is our best chance at galvanizing the process of patient recruitment, and perhaps even an opportunity for us to completely reinvent the process of clinical research itself.

The world-wide web has opened a window to the world of clinical research. With the click of a mouse, we can now access information on the latest trials, download medical information to our portable devices, connect with researchers in real-time, and find other patients with the same condition. Dedicated websites such as the U.S government’s ClinicalTrials.gov site, and the World Health Organization’s International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP), help patients easily find information on clinical trials. The launch of these sites represented a paradigm shift in clinical research; information that had once been closely guarded is now available to all. Some other note-worthy websites include The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and informing the public about clinical research; and clinical trial recruitment sites, such as ClinicalConnection, TrialReach, EmergingMed and CureLauncher which exist to match eligible patients to appropriate trials. A new digital platform Cure Forward uses a patient’s uploaded genetic sequencing to connect cancer patients to clinical trials. The site, which is currently in beta, also offers cancer patients more information on the mutations and treatments available in “gene stories” specific to their genome.

Mobile applications can be downloaded from the Apple and Google Play Stores to give patients real-time access to current information about cancer clinical trials. This is opening up opportunities for better medical treatment and care, and allows those in regional and remote areas equal access to clinical trial information.  Some sites, such as the Novartis Clinical Trials website provide users with an interactive tool for finding relevant trials taking place near their location. A GPS search function allows users to see all the trials taking place in their country by location. For those looking further afield, the Novartis site features a global search function that displays clinical trials taking place in any country.

Popular social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are being used, alongside dedicated social media patient communities, to raise awareness and encourage wider participation in clinical research. The TrialX site encourages patients to send a tweet to @trialX, preceeded by “CT” describing the type of clinical trials they are seeking. Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s Army of Women Program (AOW) taps into the power of its social networks to mobilize research into the causes of breast cancer.

 

“The word Army, which means a large group of people united for a specific purpose, quickly and clearly describes who we are. The image of us all joining in a virtual Army to get this done is a powerful one” – Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation.

 

 

The traditional methods of advertising clinical trials through print media, brochures or poster displays, meant geographic limitations narrowed the pool of potential recruits. Using popular social networking sites, researchers can now accelerate the recruitment process by extending their social reach to take in a global pool of potential recruits. According to US hospital group, Mayo Clinic, social media is especially effective at recruiting patients for its studies into rare diseases. Social media and online networks could help researchers assemble large and demographically diverse patient groups more quickly and inexpensively than traditional outreach methods. “Patients with rare diseases tend to find one another and connect because they are searching for information and support,” says Mayo Clinic’s Marysia Tweet, M.D. “Studies of rare diseases often are underfunded, and people with these conditions are quite motivated.”

One such motivated patient is Katherine Leon, an SCAD (spontaneous coronary artery dissection) survivor, who was determined to find the cause of her disease, and prevent it from happening to others. At the time of her diagnosis, SCAD, a traumatic cardiac event that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans, was a poorly understood and under-researched condition. Physicians had no clinical studies on which to base treatment plans. Leon connected with fellow SCAD survivors through social media and used their collective voice to launch research at the Mayo Clinic. The study recruited 18 participants in less than a week, six more than could participate in the initial study of 12 patients. This rapid enrollment of participants through social networking served as proof of concept for future research studies to harness the power of highly-motivated patient communities. Leon credits social media as a key research accelerant. “Social media absolutely gets the credit for making scientific study of SCAD possible” she says. “In 2003, my cardiologist told me I would never meet another SCAD patient. It was just too rare. Today, I “know” more than 1,000 fellow survivors thanks to Inspire, Facebook ‎and Google. These patients are connected to the clinical trials immediately — at hello!”

Harnessing this dynamic combination of new digital and mobile platforms, social media, and activated patients offers an unprecedented opportunity for patients and researchers to find each other with greater speed and precision, which in turn can speed up the process of recruitment to clinical trials.

Peer-To-Peer Education

The ability to engage interactively through social media further enhances the benefits to patients. Reading information in a brochure doesn’t compare to the ability to interact and ask questions in a social networking site. What is it really like to take part in a clinical trial? Would you need to travel? Will it incur any personal expenses? What kind of side-effects might you have? Trial sponsors can respond in real-time to these questions, thus speeding up the recruitment process. In addition, patients already enrolled on the trial, can provide personal insight into what is involved. One patient, who has participated in two Phase 1 clinical trials, said that he was motivated to sign up for them, by reading others’ stories online. Hearing about the experiences of others who had participated and “come out the other side” encouraged him to take part.

Sometimes there can be an open sense of distrust about the nature of clinical trials – a fear on the part of some that they will be treated as a “guinea pig”. For patients who may be wary of research agendas (particularly when pharma-led) peer-to-peer education is a vital ingredient in building trust and confidence in clinical trials. Patient advocate, Stacey Tinianov believes “there is great value in patients and caregivers leveraging the connected platforms to educate themselves on the benefits and realities of clinical trials. Learning patient to patient is often more accessible for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a certain trust”.

Moreover, social networking has the potential to empower patients and care-givers with a greater sense of control. All too often, patients who face serious illness can feel isolated and powerless; joining an online community can help enormously. By exchanging coping tips, offering encouragement and support, and sharing information on the latest clinical research, patients feel a greater sense of agency. Breast cancer survivor Diane Glassmeyer, took part in a Sierra-Stanford study of the effectiveness of support groups conducted via online video. The randomized clinical trial was designed to help researchers determine whether this type of video-mediated support group improves the well-being and quality of life of breast cancer patients who live in rural areas. Glassmeyer described the Skype Support Group as “an amazing experience to be able to see and talk to everyone in the group each week from all over the state”.

The role of the care-giver must not be overlooked in peer-to-peer support. Half of health information searches within the U.S. are on behalf of someone else. In the case of late stage oncology, or a paediatric trial, the caregiver’s involvement is imperative. We need to focus more on establishing communication and maintaining an on-going relationship, not just with the study participant, but with all involved in care-giving for the patient. Patient advocate, Andrea Borondy Kitts, a care-giver for her husband with lung cancer, says: “For the patient (my husband did not go on-line but I did) it was great to have technical help and sharing of latest research. I found out about Lucanix on the Inspire website and pursued it. When I needed to help my oncologist with the process of getting FDA approval for individual patient compassionate use, one of the Inspire members had the whole process documented and shared it with me”.

When Borondy Kitts’ husband was considering a clinical trial, she was able to get information from people with lung cancer about their experience, including side effects, with an experimental drug.  “When my husband had horrible side effects to his supposedly gentle chemo in Phase 3 clinical trial,  (Alimta /Pemetrexed), I found out from social media that many others had similar experiences and I also got tips on how to manage the side effects. My oncologist did not have enough patients in the trial to have observed these effects”.

 ePatient Reported Outcomes

Capturing Patient Reported Outcomes electronically (ePRO) through the web or mobile devices, offers a way to interact with trial participants, while also capturing critical data. Although patients for the most part face little or no restrictions on reporting their outcomes via social networking sites, there are some concerns about how this might affect the trial’s validity. Patients self-reporting on their trial treatment online and comparing notes with others may potentially jeopardize the trial. The exchange of personal experiences whilst enrollled in clinical trials can lead to patients (or any researchers on the same social network) to inadvertently “unblind”* themselves, leading to knowledge of treatment allocation. Concealment is crucial for unbiased reporting of results, and disclosures by one patient might unintentionally distort another patient’s awareness of their own symptoms, potentially skewing data reporting and potentially invalidating study results. The intersection of free speech, social media, and clinical research is still unchartered waters. Borondy Kitts, believes that while guidelines can be implemented to safeguard data integrity in a blinded trial, “for unblinded trials there should be very few limits on what can be shared.”

Patients Are Doing It For Themselves

The communication process which traditionally flowed from pharmaceutical companies to physicians to patients has been transformed by social media. Patients, who have traditionally relied on their doctors for information about the latest clinical research, are now realizing that information may be more readily found in their online patient communities. After she progressed following chemotherapy and radiation, Janet Freeman-Daily, a lung cancer survivor, took it upon herself to do her own research.

*A blinded study is a study done in such a way that the patients or subjects do not know (is blinded as to) what treatment they are receiving to ensure that the results are not affected by a placebo effect (the power of suggestion).

She found a molecular testing trial listed on ClinicalTrials.gov, and contacted trial sites until she found one accepting patients. The University of Colorado Cancer Center (UCCC) agreed to test her existing biopsy samples. Unfortunately, all her tests were negative.  However, she learned about more options online.  “Another patient told me I fit the profile of patients who had the ROS1 translocation,” said Freeman-Daily. “I was relatively young, had adenocarcinoma, was never a smoker, and tested negative for the three most common mutations.  He told me about the ROS1 trial, which he was in, and sent me the journal article with initial results as soon as it was published. However, my home hospital had not heard of ROS1, and did not know how to test for it.”  After she progressed following more chemo and radiation, Freeman-Daily contacted UCCC again and learned they had recently developed a test for ROS1.  This time her tissue tested positive, and she entered the ROS1 clinical trial in Denver.

Kathi Kolb describes the process of searching for a clinical trial after her diagnosis of cancer: “I searched the database of the National Cancer Institute and found a Phase 2 clinical trial to test a new medication to treat cancer-related fatigue in people with breast or prostate cancer. I had been doing a lot of research on the subject because I was suffering from horrible fatigue myself. Once I found a trial that fit and was close enough for me to get to, I followed the links provided and researched the cancer treatment center where it was taking place, as well as the clinicians in charge of the study. I was able to make initial contact with them by email. It was a really good experience overall.”

Janet Freeman-Daily, Kathi Kolb, Andrea Borondy Kitts, and Katherine Leon are part of a growing number of ePatients, empowered by the Internet and emerging new technologies, who are leveraging their online communities to drive and support the research agenda. From providing input into study design protocol, to raising awareness of the value of clinical trials and recruiting trial volunteers, patient influencers play a key role in accelerating the new research paradigm. AnneMarie Ciccarella, a patient advocate who serves on the Love Foundation Army of Women (AOW) Scientific Advisory Committee, believes patients have a valuable role to play in trial design. “The thing that interests me the most is trial design and having patients part of that process” she said. “Some grants require a patient advocate on the proposal. In some cases they are actively involved in the study design; in others, the researchers scramble to find an advocate before the submission deadline. I’ve participated as an advocate on a funded grant, possibly at the top of the list of things that mean the most to me. It’s about bringing patients and PIs [Principle Investigators] to the table when the questions are being formulated – a step ahead of actual trial design”.

The Future Is Social

 Ciccarella also serves on the advisory board of CureClick, an online platform which uses the power of crowdsourcing to share clinical trial information. As part of a group of key patient leaders, she helps recruit trial participant across all diseases. This new model of leveraging trusted patient leaders to educate their online communities about the benefits of clinical trials can do much to improve trial recruitment goals. CureClick ambassador Debbie Woodbury, explaining why she joined its advisory board, said: “I started working with CureClick early this year and serve on its advisory board because I feel that too often cancer patients find themselves in the curious situation of having too much, and too little, information. Many patients I’ve spoken to are overwhelmed with treatment decisions, and yet receive little to no information concerning clinical trials. The beauty of CureClick is the ease with which plain language information is shared peer to peer on social media, resulting in greater participation. It’s a win-win for everyone and I’m proud to be a part of it”.

The need for a faster and more globally scalable approach to trial recruitment, planning and design, is clear. To address challenges such as public awareness and understanding of clinical trials, increased competition for patients and decreased effectiveness of traditional advertising, requires new solutions. Social media are a key part of the solution. Social media offers patients greater accessibility and convenience of communication and information. For researchers, social media offers a unique opportunity for innovative trial recruitment modalities, increased efficiency and accelerated research outcomes. People are social creatures by nature; harnessing our innate desire for connection, to new information, social and technology platforms is the best chance we have to drive the next generation of research forward.

Refs

Malorye A. Can web 2.0 reboot clinical trials? Nature Biotechnology 27, 895 – 902 (2009).