An Adelaide grandfather suffering from a rare neuroendocrine cancer has a new lease on life thanks to a revolutionary cancer treatment being trialled by Professor Tim Price, head of oncology and clinical cancer research at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH).
After suddenly falling ill, Robert Ellis from Modbury North was undergoing emergency surgery 12 years’ ago for a suspected twisted bowel when a pathologist was surprised to see the carcinoid tumour (also known as neuroendocrine).
Only about five in one million people get a carcinoid tumour and even fewer develop true carcinoid syndrome. The syndrome has a range of uncomfortable day-to-day symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, shortness of breath and flushing.
“The pathologist had never seen a carcinoid tumour in a live patient before,” Robert said.
To manage the day-to-day impacts of the syndrome – and allow him to keep up with his much-loved grandkids – Robert was having chemical injections every 21 days.
Thankfully for Robert, the trial at TQEH was available and had a life-changing result on his quality of life. It involves a chemical red dye – known as Rose Bengal – being injected directly into the patient’s tumour. The dye has been found to regress tumours in melanoma patients and is now being tested on other cancers.
“I had 216 of these [other chemical injections] before Tim decided I was special enough to trial Bengal Rose!” Robert joked. “It worked really well, the symptoms are diminishing in their severity.”
In a further positive sign, Robert may even be benefitting from the ‘bystander’ effect.
“Instead of it just fighting the carcinoid tumour in the local area, it is spreading to fight the other tumours too. At my next gallium scan which maps out where the tumours are, for the first time we saw a reduction.”
The Rose Bengal trials are ongoing, with it having the potential to be used to treat other stomach, lung and breast cancers.
Clinical trials are only possible when the research conducted in the lab has progressed to a stage where it can truly impact a patient’s life. It’s thanks to your kind support of the Hospital Research Home Lottery that allows The Hospital Research Foundation to provide funding for these types of trials, making a difference for patients living with heartbreaking diseases.