Saturday, September 30, 2006

Family of melanoma patient featured on "Extreme Makeover"

Starting this weekend, the crew from ABC's popular "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" show will be building a new home for the family of a Wisconsin man who died from melanoma last month. The show is expected to air in either late November or early December.

From the Sheboygan Press:

A crew from the program rolled into town to build a new home for the Christine Koepke family of Dundee. Koepke, 41, mother of four, is the widow of Matt Koepke.

Matt Koepke died in August at the age of 41 from metastatic melanoma, a rare, aggressive form of cancer.

The construction marathon begins at 8 a.m. Sunday when thousands of people charge the home, led by "Extreme Makeover" host Ty Pennington. The house is slated for demolition at noon Sunday and it will take a week to rebuild the home.

From the Journal Times' Racine Report:

At 8 a.m. Friday, the show’s representatives knocked on the door of the Koepke family in Dundee, about 15 miles north of West Bend. The family was devastated recently by the brain cancer death, on Aug. 21, of Matt Koepke, husband of Christine and father of four children.
According to the TV show’s producers, Koepke’s last wish was to take care of all their home’s needed repairs.

Instead, next Friday the family should be returning to their new, fully furnished, 4,500-square-foot home.

“It’s a great cause,” said Carpetland’s co-owner Dave Brown, “and one of those things when it’s all done, it’ll be a heck of an accomplishment.”

From the Fond Du Lac Reporter:

Rumors have been swirling since July that the popular
ABC show was considering the Koepkes for an extreme home makeover.

The work was originally scheduled for Sept. 6, but moved up to August when Matt Koepke’s condition took a turn for the worse.

Koepke died Aug. 24, prompting the show to postpone its construction schedule.

While he was confident the project would take place, Buechel said the show’s representatives said the project would be pulled at any time if media published anything about the project prior to today.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mark Origer is alive

One of the recipients of the recent gene therapy trials is briefly profiled in a UK newspaper this morning.

From today's Telegraph.

When Mark Origer watched his daughter take her marriage vows last year, he knew he had a lot to be thankful for. The 53-year-old had been fighting melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer for five years. He had tried surgery, drugs and an experimental vaccine in his fight against the cancer – all without success.

Yet Origer not only made it to his daughter's wedding but is alive and well today thanks to a trial that used genetically modified versions of his own cells. Just a month after the treatment, his tumours had shrunk in half. Of the 17 patients who underwent the trial, Origer was one of two who responded to the treatment.

Their remarkable recovery has been hailed as the surest sign yet that gene therapy is making a comeback after a series of setbacks during the late 1990s that left scientists and investors seriously dis-illusioned.

Read the rest of the story.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gene Therapy

"Bad Medicine" author Christopher Wanjek wrote in his weekly column about the recent research which showed that genetic theraphy can shrink tumours.

From his "Bad Medicine" column at Health SciTech ("Exciting New Cancer Treatments Emerge Amid Persistent Myths") : reported in the journal Science on Aug. 31, scientists at the National Cancer Institute used gene therapy for the first time to completely cure two patients with an advanced and deadly skin cancer called melanoma.

In the journal Nature on Sept. 6, three science teams reported a major link between tumor suppression and stem cell division. And on the same day in the journal Cancer, doctors announced the continued, dramatic decline in cancer deaths, which began in the early 1990s.

These studies follow separate statements from the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society that over half of all cancers are preventable.

Will there ever be a cure for cancer? Likely not, which is why all so-called cancer cures hawked on the Internet are at best naive and at worse criminal, relying on fear and myth to generate sales.

Wanjeck goes on to write about the myths surrounding cancer in general. I encourage you to read the entire column.

Melanoma connection to HP scandal

If you watch the evening news at all you've most likely heard about the scandal surrounding Hewlett-Packard's possible illegal probe into media leaks at the company. One of the results of the scandal is that the person at the center of it, HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn, has decided to step down next January. What you probably don't know about Patricia Dunn is that she is a melanoma survivor. She actually stepped down from a CEO position in 2002 to battle breast cancer and melanoma and recently underwent surgery to treat ovarian cancer.

Patricia Dunn was recently honored by being entered into the Bay Area Council's hall of fame.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

The timing of the council's event juxtaposes two distinct portraits of Dunn that are hard for some to reconcile. She has become the face of the recent HP scandal, the driving force behind an investigation into boardroom leaks to the press that has created a furor.

But the hall-of-fame honor is one she shares with local luminaries such as the deceased founders of HP, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Gordon Moore of Intel and filmmaker George Lucas.

Friends and former colleagues say Dunn has been greatly misunderstood as the HP investigation has surfaced. To them, she is a hardworking business star, the rare woman in the male-dominated world of corporate finance.

That Dunn still plans to attend the event -- and speak publicly to a crowd of business elite -- is testament to her fighting spirit, say friends and colleagues. She has survived three kinds of cancer -- breast, melanoma and more recently ovarian -- in the past few years.


This was during a period of Dunn's life when she already faced another major challenge: In the past five years, she has struggled against breast cancer and melanoma. In 2004, she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. This year, she experienced a recurrence of that cancer and had surgery. Friends say she has recovered.

``She is a fighter,'' Martinez said.

Dunn is married to William Jahnke, a former president of Wells Fargo Investment Advisors. The couple owns a shiraz winery in Australia, a home in Hawaii and property in Marin and Contra Costa counties.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"The more knowledge out there, the better"

The above is a quote from the mother of Leanne Schmall who I mentioned on this blog about a year ago. Her mother, Brenda, knows what she's talking about. Because of the media attention surrounding her 16-year-old daughter's tragic death last year from melanoma, another young woman was saved. After hearing Leanne's story, 22-year-old Kelly Everett decided to have a freckle examined by a doctor. Turned out she had a stage 2 melanoma. Because it was diagnosed early enough, doctors have given Kelly a clean bill of health.

From the Milford Daily News:

Everett said when she learned of her diagnosis, she immediately thought of Leanne.
"My heart skipped a beat. I heard the word ’melanoma,’ and I could hear nothing else," she said. "I just thought, ’Leanne.’"

Before hearing Leanne’s story, Everett said she rarely thought about the possibility of skin cancer, even though some of her relatives had fought off less severe forms of the disease.

"I love the sun. I never wore sunscreen," Everett said. "I’m 22. Anyone can get it."

Since then, Everett said her family and many friends have gotten their skin checked out as well, and posted a letter of thanks on a Web site the Schmalls run in Leanne’s memory.

"I cried reading it," Brenda Schmall said. "It hit home. If Leanne made that much of a difference, that’s what we wanted."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ok, so it's not exactly a cure but...

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently discovered a new way to use gene therapy to shrink tumours. Of the 17 people treated in the clinical trial, two were in remission with no signs of the disease. Unfortunately the other 15 died so there is still a lot of work to do. According to the American Cancer Society, this is the first evidence that gene therapy can actually fight cancer.

A team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has demonstrated sustained regression of advanced melanoma in a study of 17 patients by genetically engineering patients' own white blood cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. The study appears in the online edition of the journal Science on August 31, 2006*.

"These results represent the first time gene therapy has been used successfully to treat cancer. Moreover, we hope it will be applicable not only to melanoma, but also for a broad range of common cancers, such as breast and lung cancer," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

For a Q &A on gene therapy techniques similar to those used in this study, go to:

For more information on Dr. Rosenberg's research, go to

* Morgan RA, Dudley ME, Wunderlich JR, Hughes MS, Yang JC, Sherry RM, Royal RE, Topalian SL, Kammula US, Restifo NP, Zheng Z, Nahvi A, de Vries CR, Rogers-Freezer LJ, Mavroukakis SA, Rosenberg SA. Cancer regression in patients mediated by transfer of genetically engineered lymphocytes. Science Express. Online August 31, 2006.

**UPDATE 9/9/06**

National Public Radio did a story on gene therapy recently which includes an interview with NCI researcher, Dr. Steven Rosenberg. You can listen to it here.