Big Disease, Small World

Matthew Redinbo, PhD, senior author of a study that relates to the drug CPT-11, or Irinotecan, was motivated to tackle the problem of curbing CPT-11's side effects after seeing the treatment's debilitating impact on a colleague, Lisa Benkowski, who contracted colon cancer and subsequently died in 2003.

For a long time, he did not share this with the members of his research team because he did not want to risk putting undue pressure on them. But as their work progressed and appeared to be proving successful, he told them – and found out that the graduate student performing the central studies, Bret Wallace (the paper's first author), had exactly the same experience: a family friend, Stacey Micoli, was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, treated with the same drug, suffered the same way and died last year.

Both women are cited in the acknowledgements section of the study.

"It's remarkable to me that we both had personal reasons to find a way to improve CPT-11 tolerance," Redinbo said. "We only talked about it well into the project, when I shared my story about Lisa, and Bret followed with his about Stacey."

"This paper is a testament to the fact that as scientists, our experiences can have a profound effect on our work, and that those experiences can translate from life, through the laboratory and – hopefully, in cases such as this – into patient clinics."