Celebrating Spartans: Testicular Cancer “Miracle Drug”

EAST LANSING, MI (WLNS) – A cancer drug that has saved countless lives is being called a miracle drug when treating testicular cancer.

In many cases it’s virtually cured the deadly disease in a matter of weeks and it was developed at MSU.

That’s right a professor at MSU lead the charge in the development and eventual FDA approval of the drug Cisplatin and what a difference it’s made.

40 years ago testicular cancer was a death sentence. Nearly 90 percent of testicular cancer patients died because it’s such a fast moving form of cancer.

But today 95-percent not only survive but are cured of the disease.

“I still look back like, what just happened?”

It’s been a roller coaster ride for Tyler Navin and his family.

Just last spring after battling unexplained back-pain, he got a diagnosis he never saw coming.

“I did an x-ray on my chest because I was also having some chest pain and that’s when my family doctor was like, ‘whoa’” said Tyler Navin, testicular cancer survivor.

Stage 3 testicular cancer was quickly taking over Tyler’s body.

But as he, his wife and three daughters faced the fear of cancer together, some good news, testicular cancer can be treated and even cured quickly thanks to a so-called “miracle” drug.

“When we see a patient with testicular cancer. we say hey, we can do a good job for this patient,” said Dr. Muhammad Hamdan, Oncology.

Doctor Muhammad Hamdan is the Sparrow oncologist who treated Tyler. He says a chemo drug called cisplatin helped save Tyler’s life.

“This is like the penicillin for oncology.”

While Cisplatin is used to treat numerous forms of cancer Dr. Hamdan says the Cisplatin regimen is a game changer for testicular cancer.

In some cases eradicating tumors almost immediately.

“After the first treatment my back pain was completely gone, my neck went down, lymph nodes went down,” said Tyler Navin.

But even with instant affects the treatment with Cisplatin is grueling.

“It was five days, seven hours per day in a row.”

That went on for 12 weeks.

Tyler’s hair fell out as he battled nausea all while being flushed with fluids to protect his kidneys from the toxicity of the drug.

“I lost about 40 pounds in probably less than a month.”

But three months later Tyler walked out of Sparrow completely cancer free, having no idea that the powerful drug that had just saved his life was developed just a few miles away at MSU.

The brain-child behind it was Barnett Rosenberg.

“He apparently came out to the crowd of grad students and made a comment to the affect that,’ I’ve just found a new anti-cancer agent,’” said James Hoeschele, adjunct professor, Eastern Michigan University.

That was 1965 and just three years later Cisplatin, a platinum based drug was shown to shrink large tumors.

“It was a very exciting time as you can imagine.”

James Hoeschele was an MSU student during the Cisplatin discovery era, then later worked alongside Rosenberg in his lab.

From 1968 to 1972 Hoeschele says Rosenberg’s lab on campus was buzzing as a team of scientists worked to develop the drug and send it to clinical trials.

Trials it almost never passed due to its toxicity on the body.

“That was my role, I was to do biological distribution studies, where did it go, what organs did it hit and how long did it stay?”

Those findings showed Cisplatin to be especially lethal to the kidneys.

Hoeschele says they feared the drug would never be approved by the FDA because of it.

But then another major discovery as a study on Cisplatin showed when paired with two other drugs, the effects on testicular cancer were astounding.

“Cisplatin saved testicular cancer and testicular cancer saved Cisplatin.”

And now decades later Cisplatin continues to be the backbone of treatment for testicular and many other cancers.

“I would say 60 percent of cancer utilizes Cisplatin in one way or another,” said Dr. Hamdan.

“It’s been an amazing success story,” said James Hoeschele.

A success story that has saved countless lives including Tyler’s. Today he’s healthy, back on his bike, racing more than 30 miles at a time, all while realizing every moment he has with his family is a gift.

“I hear stories of friends of friends of family who have cancer and sometimes it’s like why am I the lucky one?” said Tyler Navin.

Through the years royalties on the drug Cisplatin have brought in more than $330 million MSU to support sciences on campus, helping countless other Spartans to move on to do great things.

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