Zaidas Journey: A Celebration of Colorado Precision Medicine
Recent advances in genomic testing and precision medicine have benefited cancer patients around the country, providing better clinical outcomes with less severe side effects than traditional cancer treatments, like chemotherapy. Zaida Mattson, 12, of Lafayette, Colorado is one of these patients. Having been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3, she endured many surgeries and myriad other treatments over the past 9 years. But through a network of local scientists who developed cutting-edge tumor sequencing technology and targeted therapy in Boulder, Colorado, Zaida was able to be enrolled in a clinical trial with dramatic initial results. Although Zaidas tumors have already shrunk drastically, she is not out of the woods yet, and still needs your support.
Join us in a fundraising dinner for Zaida Mattson, as we celebrate her success and the Colorado scientists that enabled this breakthrough in precision medicine.
Zaida Mattson was diagnosed with cancer when she was 3 years old. Shes lived in Lafayette, Colorado her whole life, but spent the last 9 years in out of hospitals all over the US, working with some of the best cancer doctors in the country. In her fight against this disease, shes endured multiple surgeries to remove the tumors, having a complete hysterectomy, omentectomy and splenectomy, in addition to multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and myriad drug interventions.
She had ups and downs, but in 2014, she seemed to be winning the battle, and her cancer was in decline.
But in 2015, a new lesion was found. Needle biopsy confirmed recurrent disease. Zaidas cancer was no longer responding to the old treatments, and the tumors were growing again. This time, they had metastasized to her lungs and liver, and surgery was no longer an option. Her DNA was sent for sequencing, but didnt reveal any new potential treatments.
Then, something unexpected happened. The news of Zaidas deteriorating condition spread through social media, and scientists at a local company, ArcherDX, thought they might be able to help discover something that others had missed, a mutation in her DNA that would potentially lead to a new drug intervention. They reached out to Zaidas family. Its worth a shot. Send us some slides. It wont cost anything, and we might find something out.
Using RNA sequencing technology developed in Boulder, Colorado, scientists at ArcherDX were able to identify a gene fusion, which is a complex type of mutation that occurs when part of one gene is exchanged with part of a second gene to form a hybrid. Its hard to see gene fusions in DNA because a huge portion of the human genome is not expressed to make RNA and proteins. By looking at Zaidas RNA, these scientists were able to identify a gene fusion involving AKT1, a known cancer-causing gene and potential drug target. While fusions like this have been seen before between other genes, this was the first time anyone had ever identified an AKT1 fusion.
Word about this discovery spread. Information was shared with other Boulder scientists at Array BioPharma, who were able to perform additional analysis of the AKT1 fusion. They verified that this gene fusion appeared to be a potential drug target, and reached out to other medical oncologists to figure out how to act upon it.
As it turned out, there were no approved cancer drugs for AKT1, however there were a couple clinical trials open but only for adults. After further consultation and review with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), one of these adult-only clinical trials was approved for children. Zaida was able to be enrolled as the first-ever patient for Imosertinib, an anti-AKT1 drug that happened to be developed at Array BioPharma several years ago in Boulder, Colorado.
Zaida started the trial in early October, 2016. PET scans performed after just 3 weeks of therapy revealed that her tumors have shrunken drastically. This dramatic and quick response far exceeded expectations, and speaks to the power of using therapies targeted against specific gene mutations over traditional cancer treatments, like chemotherapy. Zaida already has a better appetite and more energy, running up and down stairs and doing handstands late at night.
While the scale of this response is indeed impressive, the battle is far from over. Zaida will continue to travel to and from MSKCC in New York City for the foreseeable future, as doctors continue to monitor her progress as part of this clinical trial.
Zaida and her family need your support to help pay for the costs of continued care and travel, as well as to spread the word about how advances in genomic testing changed Zaidas life. Join us on Friday, December 9th, for a fundraising dinner to benefit her family, as we celebrate Zaida and the Boulder scientists who made this possible.
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