Cancer treatment ‘shifting’
New frontiers are opening in cancer research, where Bermudian doctor Sheldon Holder sees increasing hope for the future.
Dr Holder, who divides his time between laboratory and clinical work through the Penn State Cancer Institute, got special recognition this month from the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium — a collaborative team drawing together the top ten universities in the United States to move the fight forward.
Asked if he felt optimistic when it came to beating cancer, Dr Holder told The Royal Gazette: “Actually, yes. We're shifting the way we treat cancer.”
Chemotherapy is still one of the top weapons against cancer, but with the more targeted therapies emerging over time, it has changed from an indiscriminate destroyer of fast-dividing cells to a precision treatment.
Dr Holder likened the new options to “a sniper rather than a bomb”.
Working in the field of genitourinary cancer for Penn State's Milton S Hershey Medical Centre, Dr Holder deals with anything from bladder tumours to cancers of the kidneys, and has thrown himself behind research with the Big Ten's clinical trial working group in that field.
“We meet regularly as well as teleconferencing to talk about potential trials, as well as ongoing trials and new ideas,” Dr Holder said.
Most physicians don't juggle clinical with lab work, but an academic medical centre with links to a major university affords Dr Holder the chance to apply both. With access to trial medicine, he is thus able to offer his patients access to new drug combinations, or treatments that might not otherwise be available.
Three years on, one of his patients struck with an uncommon and incurable metastatic kidney cancer was just able to enjoy Christmas with his family.
“The cancer is still slowly growing, but he's up and about, living life,” Dr Holder said. “Those are the really rewarding experiences. I think about those on the hard days when it's the opposite.”
Dr Holder's latest work in the laboratory focused on tracking down new targets to explore in treating kidney cancer.
“We use the Big Ten as a way to help the studies move faster,” he explained.
“With new targets and new approaches, we're going to continue to cure more people. If we're not able to cure, we can at least slow the growth of cancer and prolong life, in quality and quantity. That's going to make a big difference.”