Over time, modern medicine has developed the capability to truly ‘flip the model’ of how patients consider their health. No longer is medical treatment only a reactionary measure to making a patient better. With the advancements in the understanding of how our individual genetic makeups influence our health over the course of our lives, doctors are able to engineer highly specific treatments that are not only reactionary, once a condition has presented itself, but are also preventative. Using one’s particular genetic sequence, doctors have the ability to track genetic markers that signify the risk or presence of disease before symptoms appear. Aside from the many overall benefits of personalized medicine, this method of treatment can be especially effective in the treatment of various types of cancer; arguably the deadliest and most pervasive disease to affect humankind.
In the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh, physicians see patients who develop cancer of the head and neck. Cancer of the head and neck includes sites such as the mouth, throat, or voice box affects more than 50,000 people in the United States every year. Cancer of the head and neck can be attributed to environmental causes, such as tobacco use, or infections of the mouth caused by the proliferation of human papillomavirus (HPV). It can affect the form and function of the face, mouth and throat and is truly a terrible and life‐altering disease.
As a former patient of Dr. Eugene N. Myers, Marian Mosites knew firsthand how disruptive head and neck cancer could be. In July of 1997, Marian noticed a lump in her neck, and while preliminary tests did not indicate a spread of cancer, she visited Dr. Myers in the UPMC Ear, Nose, and Throat offices to be sure. Initially not convinced that it was cancer, Dr. Myers performed a biopsy and discovered it was in fact cancer, which had spread from her tonsil into the lymph nodes of her neck. Surgical removal of the cancer, followed by radiation and chemotherapy proved to be successful for Marian, and she has been cancer free and enjoying a normal life for nearly 18 years.
“Dr. Myers was my knight in shining armor”, she says, “throughout the diagnoses, the surgery, the post‐operative treatment and the follow‐up care, Dr. Myers and the department were so very skilled, knowledgeable and on the cutting edge of [their] field, yet so very kind, caring and humble.” Marian and her family were so impressed with the treatment she received and grateful for saving her life that making a gift to the Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh was, as she calls it “a sure bet.” Marian and her husband, Steven, after hearing about the ways in which personalized medicine was the future of cutting edge treatment for head and neck cancer, decided to establish the Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Head and Neck Cancer Research.
With enhanced screening opportunities in personalized medicine, the perceived inevitability of an invasive surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation is becoming less and less. One specific goal of these personalized forms of therapies is the reduction of toxic substances and lowered appearance of negative side effects that often come hand in hand with these traditional treatments. This approach has already proven to be effective in clinical trials, and as enhanced screening practices are adopted, the world will see truly groundbreaking new options for curing cancers of the head and neck.
Marian and her husband, along with their family, are hopeful about this new venture into personalized medicine, and she states that, “it is incredibly exciting for someone who has experienced cancer treatment first hand. The idea that doctors and researchers can look to the genetics of the cancer to categorize it and to determine how best to prevent and treat it is awe‐inspiring. With this commitment of funds over a five year period, we are hoping for a breakthrough in the research involving the genetic testing and categorizing of cancers to advance the treatment of head and neck cancer for patients everywhere.”