Immunotherapy clinical trial gives hope to leukemia, melanoma survivor

An acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis (AML) in May 2016 came as no real surprise to Julia Dutton. She’d been fighting debilitating fatigue for a couple of weeks. Then her gums became so painful and swollen, “they felt like balloons and looked like if you stuck them with a pin, they’d pop,” Julia says. Thinking she had a gum infection, Julia went to her dentist for a teeth cleaning. That brought no relief. When her vision became blurry, too, Julia went to an urgent care clinic, where she learned that her hemoglobin counts were very low. The doctor said she probably had cancer. “I felt so bad that day that it really was no surprise,” Julia says. “I’ve always been a real active person, but I was out of breath just walking up the stairs. I was so tired I couldn’t even function.” Choosing a clinical trial at MD Anderson Within three days of her diagnosis, Julia had her first appointment at MD Anderson. “My sister had been there in 2014,” she says. “So I knew that’s where I wanted to be.” During her first visit, Julia met with Alessandra Ferrajoli, M.D., who confirmed her acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis with a bone marrow biopsy. Ferrajoli asked Julia to consider a Phase I/Phase II clinical trial under Farhad Ravandi-Kashani, M.D. It involved an immunotherapy drug, nivolumab. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about immunotherapy,” Julia says. “But I called a doctor friend of mine, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah. You want to be on it.’ So I joined. Once I read up about immunotherapy, I was all over it.” Pneumonia...