Kamen and his wife Jill, both founders of the Kamen Brain Tumor Foundation, are committed to the promise of precision medicine.
Their foundation recently provided funding to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to continue its research on immunotherapy — testing chemotherapy agents in the lab beforehand to see if they can cross the blood-brain barrier.
"In the past, there was no way of knowing for sure which agents could cross the blood-brain barrier and which ones could not. Now they can see which ones will infiltrate the tumor in the hope of killing it," said Mazen.
The Kamen Brain Tumor Foundation also recently funded Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center's research on intrathecal radioimmunotherapy, in which immune drugs are tagged with radiation and are inserted directly into the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord to kill the tumors. Injecting the tumor directly with meds, including immune meds, and watching the progress is a way to avoid surgery, said Mazen.
Their latest research involves growing the actual brain tumor tissue extracted from the patient in the laboratory, said Mazen. "Now we have a way to deliver medicines through the blood-brain barrier, something we were not able to do before," he said. "In the lab, scientists can determine which therapy — meds, radiation, immune therapy — works and then apply that to the patient and be comfortable that it will concentrate in the tumor tissue. This avoids giving therapies that do not work and only give serious side effects," said Mazen.
Another trial under way now: tagging the patient's own T-cell immune cells with a specific virus in the lab and injecting them into the patient's bloodstream in the hope that it will directly attack the tumor's blood supply.
Mazen and Jill Kamen are hopeful that time will tell.
"Sen. McCain was not only a hero in his lifetime but also a hero during his illness. He was a fighter and took his illness with dignity and grace. This is a life lesson to all of us who face adversity in life," said Mazen. "He was a great man, and we owe it to future generations to find a cure to this devastating disease."