The story of Sam Kell

15 February 2020 0 By Roberto Pugliese

This story impressed me for the unconventional approach that was used in the treatment that combines precision medicine, transactional medicine, use of off-label drugs and concomitant treatments with the Optune device but also for the common passion for basketball that Sam has with Emanuele. But let’s get to the facts.

When Sam Kell was 14 while playing basketball he started to see double from which MRI and the surgical operation that followed which removed a large part of the tumor, the histological examination and the terrible diagnosis: glioblastoma multiforme.

But Sam is still alive, he started college and is the manager of the men’s team at the University of Oklahoma in Rochester.

The following video tells the story of Sam and the unconventional treatment he underwent.

In short, given the severity of the disease and the poor prognosis, the doctors of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital of the University of Michigan have decided to execute the complete genomic sequencing of DNA and RNA to precisely identify the mutations present in Sam’s tumor and hit them with a specific drug. The sequencing results convinced the doctors that Sam’s tumor could be treated with an off-label drug called everolimus which is typically used to prevent rejection in kidney transplants.

In addition to this treatment, Sam has also chosen to use the Optune device which he has worn steadily for at least 18 hours a day every day and which uses low intensity electric fields with the aim of slowing down the division of glioblastoma multiforme cells.

Certainly Sam was helped by the fact that a large part of the tumor had been removed, which, as we know from a recent study, has a huge influence on life expectancy, however, few patients live more than two years after the diagnosis. It is not even known exactly which of the two treatments made the difference and certainly for the patient this does not matter but it is certain that for complex pathologies such as glioblastoma a combined treatment is necessary to limit the possibility of disease progression.

The Mott was among the first hospitals in the nation to use real-time sequencing in the case of pediatric cancers and today through the Mi-ONCOSEQ program this approach and in general precision medicine is used in most high-risk tumors.

The recently published studies in science also go in this direction, thanks to the collaboration of different centers, which reveal how DNA errors resulting from mutations drive the growth of tumors. Thanks to this research, a huge database is being created that describes the different mutations present in the different types of cancer and can be used to understand which drugs available on the market today can help fight them or to guide the design of new drugs for the treatment of specifications mutations.

Sam’s story is therefore an example of how even glioblastoma can be defeated using the most advanced techniques we have, neurosurgery and maximum resection, precision medicine, off-label drugs and combination of different treatments including the Optune device and maximum attention to the patient. Sam had lost his father due to a glioblastoma when he was only 4 years old but this time, things went differently!