Scientist Chooses Science First
I had some trouble (as you, no doubt, could tell) with a title for this entry. I am fascinated by the decision made by Dr. Kimberly Koss about her breast cancer treatment. Diagnosed with triple negative disease, reportedly the recommended treatment was neoadjuvant chemotherapy. "Neoadjuvant" means having at least some of the planned chemotherapy prior to surgery. This is a not uncommon situation and frequently suggested for women with large tumors or aggressive cancers.
Being a scientist herself, Dr. Koss knew that chemotherapy would forever change the cancer cells inside her. Her decision to have surgery first, thereby taking out "virgin"/untreated cancer cells to be available for science, is remarkable. No one can question her altruism or marvelous and generous intentions. Of course, no one can also be sure whether this reveral in order of suggested treatment will make a whit of difference to her future health.
Saving these cells and making arrangements to donate them for oncology research is certainly reminiscent of the story of Henrietta Lax. If you haven't read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot, I strongly suggest that you do. The central difference here is that Ms. Lax was never asked for any kind of permission. As a black woman in mid-century Baltimore, she was not included in any decisions re her breast cancer care. Her cells have been the source of many studies and so much knowledge about breast cancer. We all owe her.
Here is the new story:
Researcher Skips Treatment to 'Immortalize' Her Own Cancer
Kimberly L. Koss, PhD, 57, skipped standard preoperative chemotherapy in an effort to culture pure versions of the cells
removed after her mastectomy.
Chemotherapy would have damaged the cancer cells and made them less likely to live on in lab cultures, which is a rare
scientific achievement. But chemotherapy also might have improved Dr. Koss's outcome.
"She is very brave and self-sacrificing," Keith Jones, PhD, who is leading the research team culturing the cells, said in a
press statement. He is chair of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the Loyola University
Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
"I think we can unlock the secrets of these deadly cells," said Dr. Koss in the statement. "I have a daughter and 3
granddaughters. I hope they never get this disease. But if they do, new treatments could be their salvation, as well as the
salvation of many other women."
Dr. Koss, who recently retired from the University of Cincinnati, where Dr. Jones worked before moving to Chicago, has an
especially aggressive case of triple-negative disease, which is notoriously difficult to treat, even in less severe cases.