Precision oncology delivers miracle for Mickey

Published: May. 24, 2019 at 3:53 PM EDT
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According to the American Cancer Society, one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during his lifetime.

The standard of care is usually surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. But one researcher believes there should be a new treatment strategy that can improve a patient's quality of life.

It may not seem like much, but to Mickey Nunn, being able to play bass guitar for his wife, Teresa, is a big miracle. More than 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer. The cancer was inoperable, and Nunn had already undergone 42 treatments of radiation. So, now he had 17 rounds of chemotherapy.

"Chemo for me was like throwing it on the wall and seeing if it stuck," Nunn said.

Even with all the treatments, his PSA score, or prostate-specific antigen, skyrocketed. A score above four is a risk factor for prostate cancer. Nunn's was 99.

"Only thing that was left was to pray to God for a miracle, and He gave me one," Nunn said.

The miracle came in the form of Dr. Eddy Yang at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Yang believes he can treat Nunn's tumor using precision medicine.

"Precision oncology for us means to gather as much data about a patient as well as their cancer and trying to figure out what's the best treatment for them," Yang said.

Researchers use a biopsy or blood sample from the patient.

"If we find that a patient's tumor has that particular mutation for which there is a drug against that mutation, then we put them on a study using that drug," Yang said.

In Nunn's case, it was an ovarian cancer drug that seems to work against his prostate cancer mutation. With this new drug, Nunn has been in remission for more than a year.

"It's not just trial and error. This here is made especially for me," Nunn said.

Nunn's PSA score has fallen from 99 to 3.16 after starting the cancer drug Lynparza, normally prescribed for ovarian cancer. He also took pain medication for his back pain but no longer needs to.




REPORT: MB #4583

BACKGROUND: Precision oncology is a fairly new approach to cancer treatment that is rapidly developing. It uses a patient's genetics, more specifically the genes that are mutated, to create a treatment tailored to their specific type of cancer by profiling their tumors to identify alterations that are treatable. This allows doctors to pair a drug to a patient based on their proven benefit depending on the patient's genes, rather than the specific form of cancer they may have. Not all drugs work the same for everyone, so it is important to understand patient's utilization and benefits of drugs, in order to provide the correct treatment. (Source:

HOW IT WORKS: When a specialist finds out which gene mutations are causing your cancer; they are able to choose a tailored therapy for your specific mutations. Targeted therapy has better results and fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy. It helps doctors find the exact driver of your cancer, treat it properly by using therapies that are less invasive, and causes less side effects; the European Society for Medical Oncology describes it as the right medicine for the right patient at the right time. Two people will not have the exact same cancer even if it is within the same category, because they don't have the exact same mutations driving their cancer which is why the same treatment will not work for two people. Precision oncology allows patients to receive a unique combination of advanced targeted therapies and nutraceuticals, as well as other treatment interventions. (Source:

PATH TO PRECISION MEDICINE: Researchers used CRISPR technology in one of the largest studies for cancer drugs to disrupt every gene in more than 300 cancer models from 30 cancer types. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are common treatments which effectively kill cancer cells. However, some patients either don't respond to treatment or develop side effects. Precision medicine allows patients to get specific treatment for their specific gene mutation driving their cancer. It is becoming more common as a therapy for cancer and through this large study, researchers discovered thousands of genes necessary for cancer's survival. This allowed a team from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Open Targets at Kyoto University to make a new system to accelerate the path to precision medicine, and the system ranked 600 drug targets that were the most promising for development into treatments. (Source: