Looking Beyond the Academic Walls for Cancer Care

At the recent Society for Integrative Oncology meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, I had the opportunity as an invited lecturer, to sit in on many informative presentations. As I listened to these investigators, who have developed clinical therapy programs combining traditional chemotherapies with dietary, lifestyle and herbal remedies, I felt a sense of shared frustration. Here, after all, were dedicated therapists using available non-toxic interventions to improve outcomes, yet the major academic centers continue to turn a blind eye to their contributions. Instead they are required to meet stringent research criteria that those within conventional therapy might be unable to meet.

I then realized that cancer patients must step outside the confines of usual and customary referral patterns and treatment programs to obtain the best outcome for themselves. I was favorably impressed by the dedication of the many investigators and feel convinced that the application of natural products, supportive measures, dietary and lifestyle modifications, and the judicious use of chemotherapeutics will indeed lead the way to a better future in oncology.

As I often say to my patients, “No one is more interested in saving your life than you.”

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

3 Responses to Looking Beyond the Academic Walls for Cancer Care

  1. linda says:

    Good comments…. I was at an ovarian survivors conference a couple of weeks ago with some extremely caring and well known doctors. One of the speakers was a survivor who talked about how she also embraced some integrative approaches, especially in regard to diet a la the book Anticancer by Dr. Servan-Shreiber. Later the doctors themselves were asked who had read Anticancer — you guessed it, none of them had. To not even read it out of curiosity, or to refute it?

    There was a session on complementary medicine as well, given by a mainstream large teaching hospital doctor. The slides and information were woefully out of date and did not even feature the work of well-known gyn docs like Dr. David Alberts.

    Given the dismal stats on ovarian cancer, we need every bit of ammo we can get in the arsenal. Thanks for bringing this into open forum!


  2. Elaine L. says:

    Excellent post, Dr. Nagourney! We, as cancer patients, don’t know where to turn when it comes to integrative therapy. We are often too afraid to follow through with our own research and often receive very little encouragement from our oncologists.


  3. Pat M says:

    As a 3+ year survivor of NSCLC, I know with certainty that I am not just “surviving” but LIVING WELL because of the many “alternatives” I have incorporated into my treatment. If my path had been constricted by conventional therapeutics instead of rational ones, there is a good possibility I might not still be here.

    Cancer doesn’t just invade your body, it invades your whole life. Beating it requires a “whole life” approach. As a patient, I don’t need a clinical trial or a published paper to tell me who does better and who does worse in this battle. I know from personal experience. The friends I’ve lost to cancer and the ones who thrive despite their prognoses tell me all I need to know. Most of the “thrivers” take charge of their health, search and question with an open mind, then yield to their own inner wisdom. But all too often patients are bullied out of trusting their instincts by uninspired practitioners who treat them as statistics, not individuals. And particular shame on the doctors who know better, but discourage their patients from exploring legitimate alternatives even when they have nothing left to offer them.

    It’s not that I wish for the academic walls that enclose conventional cancer care to be knocked down completely – much has been learned and many are to be thanked for what we do know about cancer. But 40 years of a war on cancer with minimally improved outcomes demands a new strategy. It demands windows and doors to be knocked into those walls so that fresh air, light, hope and reason can be let in.

    Dr. Nagourney and all of your like-minded colleagues, I hope the frustration you share is in some small measure compensated by the gratitude of those of us who thrive because of your efforts.


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