The University of Southampton’s research into cancer immunology treatment isn’t just about boffins in white coats doing clever things in labs – it’s also about real people and their personal battles with cancer. Here’s the story of one such patient and how the University’s work has changed her life…
In February 2011, Julie found a lump in her neck. Other than tiredness, she had no real symptoms. “Life’s busy,” she says. “We get tired.” The lump was removed at Southampton General Hospital the same month and Julie was diagnosed with advanced follicular lymphoma. Multiple tumours were growing in her groin and under her arms.
Julie took an impressively pragmatic approach to her diagnosis, working from home and trying not to dip into the internet too often! But the prognosis using traditional therapies was not promising and she agreed to take part in an immunotherapy trial of a monoclonal antibody (GA101), an experimental treatment given alongside chemotherapy.
After an initial allergic reaction, the treatments started to show positive results. Six months of antibody treatment alongside chemotherapy shrunk the tumours. After another 18 months of antibody-only treatment, the largest of the tumours had reduced from 10cm to 0.5cm.
“The response from day one was amazing. It felt like there was a little Pac-Man munching away at the tumours and I was going to be the one to win!”
Julie is now living drug free, visiting hospital every three months for routine check-ups until the trial finishes in 2016. She has returned to the activities she loves, and has become a regular walker for her neighbours’ dogs in the beautiful countryside where she lives.
Now licensed, GA101 is being used in mainstream medicine, offering hope to many more people like Julie. Much of the discovery science lying behind the drug was carried out in Southampton University’s laboratories.
Note: Pac-Man is the main character in the videogame of the same name. It comes from the Japanese word ‘pakku’ which means chomp.