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In the News…
– What is First in Human? Watch Discovery’s First in Human Film Series about the NIH on August 10th
– Giving Back to Science… a Leukemia Research Trial
– Take Me Out to the Ballgame!
– Save the Date for the Annual Friends’ Night Out


What is First in Human? Watch Discovery’s FIRST IN HUMAN Film Series Starting August 10th 9 p.m. EST

 Damion with DeJanae & Destiny

Damion with DeJanae & Destiny

The Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a long list of medical breakthroughs – from the first use of chemotherapy for cancer, lithium for depression and immunosuppressive therapy for lupus. On August 10 at 9 pm EST, Discovery will air First in Human, an unprecedented look at the work inside the nation’s largest research hospital featuring patients, doctors and researchers who partner to find the cures of the future.

The concept of First in Human comes from the translation of laboratory science into clinical trials, says Dr. Catherine Lai, an NIH physician who specializes in leukemia. It refers to the step in the process of studying a treatment where enough is known about the drug’s safety and efficacy that researchers feel comfortable giving the treatment to people. “First in human,” is a major step on the path to breakthroughs in medical research, she notes.

Friends of Patients at the NIH, in its new campaign #BeBrave, will collaborate with Discovery Impact to promote the three-part series. Discovery’s First in Human is narrated by Jim Parsons, and produced and directed by John Hoffman. Take a Sneak Peak.


Giving Back to Science … a New Trial in Leukemia Research

Damion B., has Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a blood cancer. An avid soccer fan, he describes the unique nature of the dual drug treatment trial in which he enrolled in sports terms. “It’s like playing soccer. You have one goalie, but two players are coming at him at the same time and he doesn’t know who is going to hit him first and score the goal.”

Dr. Lai reviews leukemia cell slides

Dr. Lai reviews leukemia cell slides

Dr. Catherine Lai, Damion’s physician in the clinical leukemia program at NIH, notes that the two drugs play two very different roles. A newer agent — Pembrolizumab – is an immunotherapy drug that tries to get the body’s compromised immune system to function properly again. Decitabine – a more traditional leukemia drug- kills cancer cells. The hope is that the combination is more effective that either drug alone to stop the rapidly growing disease. Both drugs are FDA approved, but their combined use is novel.

The father of two young girls, Damion understands that timing is everything. He began feeling sick in 2016, two years after coming to the U.S. from Jamaica. He left behind his job – and health insurance – in search of a better life. Worried about being uninsured, he tried to ignore his symptoms but his family urged him to seek care. That’s when he learned that he had cancer.

Damion underwent three intensive courses of standard chemotherapy before he came to NIH. Dr. Lai said he had an initial response to his first treatment, but unfortunately relapsed, which brought him to the NIH trial, designed to try a novel combination of drugs with the goal of putting his leukemia into remission.

Damion required a long hospitalization at NIH that compounded his daily stress. He received support from Friends of Patients at the NIH to cover an insurance policy he needed, but could not afford due to his inability to work. Daily phone calls with his daughters, who live in Jamaica with their mother, give him support and motivation. “I do my best to be a good father,” he says, “and they give me hope.”

Unfortunately, not every patient achieves a trial’s hoped-for benefits. Damion’s leukemia did not respond. “We thought the treatment may work because both drugs worked in a different mechanism than any of the chemotherapies he had gotten,” Dr. Lai explained. “We told him that there was potential that the drugs may work, but there was no guarantee, and that his participation also helped give back to science.”

It is “giving back” that Damion focuses on, even as he hopes for new treatment options. He says he wants others to benefit from the knowledge researchers gained from this trial. “It was a big privilege to come here. I told them if they find something that can help someone else, I will be glad to do that.” That’s how discoveries are made and cures created. And it’s what Friends at NIH is dedicated to supporting.

Damion has now returned to Jamaica to see his family but remains optimistic about enrolling in a new trial when he returns.


Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Nationals Park

Nationals Park

Baseball’s favorite anthem, sung by millions every season, takes on a special meaning for patients like Mark, who are eager for a break during treatment. Mark is 62 and a participant in an NIH trial for Car T Cell Lymphoma, a blood cancer. The immunotherapy treatment involves infusions of healthy cells – his own — to attack malignant cells[WS1] [CS2] .

But for an afternoon, life was not about cancer and never touched on treatment – it was all about baseball. “I love baseball,” Mark said, “There is nothing like seeing the guys hit the ball and score some runs.”

Mark stays near the Clinical Center for five days of monitoring after each infusion treatment. He says it’s a challenge to find ways that he and his wife can pass the time. “You wake up in a strange town where the cost of living is high. Either you sit in your hotel room and do nothing, or you spend a lot of money to get out. If you are lucky, you get a program, like this one, that says, ‘how about you go to the Washington Nationals on us.'”

That would be the recent Nats vs. Mets game at Nationals Park. A long-time Cleveland Indians fan, Mark says he didn’t care who won the game, he just wanted to enjoy a day in the sunshine at the new ball park – and that’s just what he and his wife did. “As a patient, you can feel out of control. That’s why this kind of fun day out is really valuable.” Friends of Patients at the NIH is pleased to provide outings like this one that give patients like Mark some priceless time to relax and enjoy life when they need it most. Like the song says, “Take me out to the ball game… Take me out with the crowd!”

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