Endeavors - Chasing Pac-Man

Two UNC researchers design a biological test to individualize chemotherapy.

When gynecologic oncologist Paola Gehrig makes a treatment plan, she has little to go by to make sure her patient gets the best chemotherapy dose with the least amount of toxicity. For most chemotherapy drugs, the patient’s height and weight are the only factors used to determine a dose. The physician then adjusts the dose once toxicities of a drug appear: severe nausea, pain, ulcers, exhaustion, and any number of other side effects.

Ovarian cancer is usually detected at a late stage when a woman’s chance of surviving beyond five years drops below 45 percent. According to Gehrig, 80 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer will relapse, and many of those who choose to continue treatment will ultimately receive the nanoparticle drug Doxil (liposomal doxorubicin).

Although the drug is effective, Gehrig can never tell which patients will have to stop treatment due to its painful side effects, like oral ulcers or debilitating swelling of hands and feet. So when she first saw William Zamboni’s research on Doxil during his interview at UNC in 2006, she was excited about starting a collaboration.

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