OKBio Summit speaker shares tale of how clinical trial was a lifesaver
By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
The Oklahoma Bioscience Association on Thursday put a human face on the work of health care professionals and scientists involved in research and clinical trials.
Suleika Jaouad, 27, shared her story at the annual OKBio Summit of how a clinical trial four years ago rescued her from what appeared to be a losing battle with leukemia.
The theme of the summit, held at the Embassy Suites Downtown Medical Center, was “Research in Your Own Backyard: Evaluating the Science of Clinical Trials.
Jaouad also was keynote speaker for the annual BioScience Awards Dinner on Thursday evening.
In 2012, Jaouad was 22 and had just started a new job in Paris as a paralegal for a law firm there. Then she got sick but was not correctly diagnosed for several months.
“I had a rare bone marrow disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, and by the time of my diagnosis it had turned into acute myelogenous leukemia,” Jaouad said.
Jaouad was hospitalized and placed on chemotherapy in an attempt to put the cancer into remission. It didn’t work and the leukemia became even more aggressive.
“At that point we had to re-evaluate our options and were at a bit of a crossroads,” she said. “That’s when the idea of a clinical trial was brought up to me.”
Ultimately, Jaouad enrolled in a trial that involved a combination therapy of two types of chemotherapy treatments. Within six months her cancer was in remission enough to allow her to undergo a lifesaving bone marrow transplant.
Jaouad wrote about her experience in an award-winning blog and video series called “Life, Interrupted” on the New York Times website.
“When I first heard the words ‘clinical trial,’ my first reaction was ‘I don’t want to do that,’ ” she said. “My future was already so uncertain as it was that the last thing I wanted was a trial. I wanted a certain cure. I wanted to know that the treatment I was doing was worth the havoc they were wreaking.”
It took a certain amount of faith to step out and participate in the trial.
“At that point, you put your faith in your doctors, you put your faith in the power in scientific research, you put your faith in to whatever you believe in and hope for the best,’ she said. “And that’s what I chose to do.”
Now cancer free, it has been four years since Jaouad underwent the bone marrow transplant and two years since her last round of chemotherapy.
She said the purpose of her Oklahoma City appearance was to put a face to the numbers that researchers deal with in their labs every day.
“I think it’s easy to lose sight of why you do what you do when you work in an office or a lab,” she said. “My hope is to connect them back to that patient’s voice and provide them with some inspiration and a narrative of someone who has directly benefited from what they do.”
In opening the Bio Summit, Scott Meacham, i2E Inc. president and CEO, said that more than 700 clinical trials are currently under way in Oklahoma across a broad spectrum of health care conditions.
“Without the willingness of individuals to participate in these trials like our guest speaker today, medical research cannot advance,” Meacham said. “These studies provide promise for improving disease outcomes and providing better health for future generations.”