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Health Spotlight: Researchers testing therapy fueled by genetic mutation for cancer patients

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Researchers are now testing a new therapy for pancreatic cancer.

About 64,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2023. Over 50,000 will die from it.

Health experts say it’s a hard cancer to cure because it doesn’t respond well to standard chemotherapy. Researchers are testing a new therapy for patients with pancreatic and other cancers fueled by a genetic mutation.

Donna and Bob Baioni grew up in the same small town. Donna says they couldn’t stand each other in grade school. But at age 16, something changed.

A cancer patient, Bob said, “Got to talking and I thought, ‘Hmm, she’s cute!’”

Donna and Bob have been married 56 years. Right after their 50th wedding anniversary celebration, Bob started having abdominal and back pain that wouldn’t go away.

“Next thing I know, I’ve got pancreatic cancer diagnosis,” Bob said.

He had surgery. Even after multiple rounds of chemo, the cancer came back. Bob had no energy and started missing family events, including his granddaughter’s graduation. “I had bought a new suit to go there. Couldn’t go.”

That’s when Bob’s doctor referred him to Dr. Sameek Roychowdhury, who determined that Bob had a rare fibroblast growth factor receptors mutation fueling his cancer. Roychowdhury and his colleagues were looking at new treatments for patients with the same mutation in what’s called a basket trial.

“It’s a ‘basket’ because we’re allowing patients with different cancer types to join the trial. So, uterus cancer, cancer of the head and neck,” Roychowdhury said.

Patients on the trial take a pill for two or three weeks, with a one-week break.

“These drugs are smart drugs, so they’re designed to go right after the FGFR gene.”

The treatment isn’t a cure, but Bob’s cancer has stopped growing.

Donna said, “Maybe it might not go away, but he’s stable.”

They’re looking forward to the next family adventure.

The Ohio State University researchers are also hoping to enroll patients for a trial that is specific to pancreatic cancer patients with the FGFR gene mutation. It will be a telemedicine-enabled trial, meaning they’ll be accepting patients nationwide and following them through virtual appointments. The researchers are hoping to have approval to proceed by the end of the summer.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV.