A great IDEA: Mentorship program inspires international collaboration

Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., with her IDEA mentor Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D.

Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., with her IDEA mentor Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D. Photo by © ASCO/David Eulitt 2015

She’s a doctor of dire diagnoses.

By the time patients are presented to Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., most have advanced cancer, often metastasized to several sites. It is left to her to break the news – and she has about 20 minutes to do so, thanks to a caseload that has her seeing an average of 30 patients per day, in a regional hospital with just 35 beds.

The Algerian oncologist makes the most of every interaction with each patient, acting as their psychologist and advocate as well as their doctor. Long wait for a CT scan and MRI at her government-run center? As a medical school student, Mazouzi learned how to pull some strings at a private hospital. No money to pay for treatment? She quietly approached some philanthropic-minded contacts. And now, when treatments fail and all options are exhausted, she helps her patients in the final chapter of their life.

“I chose medical oncology because I wanted to improve the quality of life for cancer patients. I think I’ve succeeded in my mission so far,” Mazouzi said.

Mazouzi has been a pioneer of palliative care in Algeria, where traditionally patients were sent home to die, without any additional medical support. A young physician in the final months of her residency at Ibn Badis Hospital of Constantine, in northeast Algeria, Mazouzi received a fellowship last summer from the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), which allowed her to travel to Brussels to spend a month learning about how palliative care is delivered at the Jules Bordet Institute.

“I thought it would be very expensive and impossible to implement in Algeria, but when I went there I was shocked – there are simple medicines and affordable treatments and we can really improve the quality of life for patients,” Mazouzi said. “These patients may have failed their treatments, but they are still alive. We don’t have to just let them die. We can be with them through the end so they won’t suffer.”

The experience not only altered her approach to end-of-life care, it changed practices throughout her hospital. Upon her return, Mazouzi initiated new educational and administrative programs that she continues to lead today.

Now, she hopes to transform the landscape of cancer research in her native country, after an equally eye-opening experience at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Photo of Khaoula Mazouzi, Barbara Fiederlein, and Eleni Andreopoulou
Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., reviews a patient’s records with clinical care nurse Barbara Fiederlein, and IDEA mentor Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D.
 As part of the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s International Development and Education Award (IDEA) mentorship program, Mazouzi participated in the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.

Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D., was selected by ASCO to be a mentor as part of the program. Along with co-mentor Anne Moore, M.D., she hosted Mazouzi for a three-day visit at the Weill Cornell Breast Center.

The purpose of the IDEA program is to support the professional development of early-career oncologists in low- and middle-income countries around the world, Andreopoulou said. Upon the mentees’ return to their home institution, it is expected that mentors and mentees remain in contact and pursue opportunities for consultation and collaboration.

While at Weill, Mazouzi met patients and specialists in several fields, attended tumor board meetings and educational lectures, and learned about how clinical trials are conducted.

“I like the teamwork, especially the specialized, multidisciplinary tumor boards,” Mazouzi said. “We don’t have well-established tumor boards at my center. I would like to make them more multidisciplinary, and more frequent.”

But one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the lab of Evi Giannakakou, Ph.D., and a discussion with research fellow Giuseppe Galletti. Despite a life-long dream of becoming a scientist, Mazouzi has never had the opportunity to step foot in a research laboratory.

“I now know, for certain, that this is what I’m going to do,” Mazouzi said.

Mazouzi would like to build clinical research programs in Algeria, where there is currently very little infrastructure to support it, and a dire need for even basic training to enable physicians to conduct clinical trials.

A recent surge in interest and investment in cancer care in Algeria gives her hope. In the past four years, the government has built two new regional hospitals, invested heavily in radiotherapy machines and personnel – doubling the amount of trainee doctors – and has footed the bill for many targeted therapies, including some that are quite expensive, Mazouzi said. Pharmaceutical companies have also invested in training doctors and scientists to conduct genetic testing and immunohistochemistry at specialized centers.

“I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s very possible. But we will need new government investment, training and international collaborations,” Mazouzi said.

Those collaborations could start with Weill. Mazouzi hopes to continue to work with her mentors at the Breast Center as she builds new programs at her own hospital.

Andreopoulou said she was happy to participate and was herself inspired by the ambitious young doctor.

“I think this experience was a significant opportunity to be exposed to the multidisciplinary care of patients with breast cancer and to be introduced to the principles of clinical and translational research, as well as the concept of precision medicine being pioneered at this institution,” Andreopoulou said. “This exposure will enhance her skills and perspective, and enable her to be instrumental in developing cancer care programs in her country. It’s exciting to be able to help medical oncology in the rest of the world.”

Originally published June 16, 2015 to the Meyer Cancer Center

Breast Center Team at American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting 2015 – Key Happenings!

We are excited to announce the Weill Cornell Medical College Breast Center’s contributions to the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting next week!

Dr. Eleni Nackos (on behalf of Dr. Linda Vahdat) will be giving an oral presentation on the results from our phase 2 tetrathiomolybdate (TM) study. http://abstracts.asco.org/156/AbstView_156_151971.html

Dr. Tessa Cigler is chairing the Patient and Survivor Care session. Our abstract on cold caps was selected for a poster discussion session. http://abstracts.asco.org/156/AbstView_156_149240.html

Dr. Eleni Andreopoulou was selected by the International Development and Education Award (IDEA) group to mentor a physician from Morocco. Oncologists are selected by this group to host recipients for three-day visits following the ASCO meeting.

“The purpose of the IDEA program is to support the professional development of early-career oncologists in low- and middle-income countries around the world. The program pairs IDEA recipients with ASCO members in the United States or Canada who serve as their scientific mentors. Upon the mentees’ return to their home institution, it is expected that mentors and mentees remain in contact and pursue opportunities for consultation and collaboration.”

Dr. Anne Moore is chairing the Leadership Development Program presentation to the ASCO Board of Directors. The Leadership Development Program is a year-long program to learn leadership skills, gain exposure to the roles and mission of ASCO, and developing the future of cancer care. Dr. Moore is also joining the IDEA Working Group.

To view other abstracts from our studies:

PARP inhibitor ABT-888 http://abstracts.asco.org/156/AbstView_156_144933.html

Ovarian reserve and menses http://abstracts.asco.org/156/AbstView_156_147965.html

The METRIC study for metastatic triple negative breast cancer: http://abstracts.asco.org/156/AbstView_156_150265.html

IMMU study for metastatic triple negative breast cancer: http://abstracts.asco.org/156/AbstView_156_150673.html

Please find us on Twitter @CornellBreastCr & Facebook Weill Cornell Breast Center

Keeping Your Hair During Chemo

Dr. Tessa Cigler, a Weill Cornell oncologist involved in the cold-cap studies, said she first learned about cold caps from a patient who had researched the treatment and learned about their use in Europe. After studying the European data on cold-cap treatment, she allowed her patient to use them and became interested in conducting her own research.

The success of a cold cap treatment often depends on the duration and type of chemotherapy regimen, so not every woman is a candidate, Dr. Cigler says. In addition, cold caps are typically used only on patients with solid tumors, like breast cancer, and are not suitable for patients with blood cancers.

“Cold cap therapy is really empowering to many patients,” Dr. Cigler said. “It has allowed many patients to protect their privacy, and allows women to maintain their self-esteem and their sense of well-being during a really difficult time.”

http://nyti.ms/1Abgsgn

Results: Phase I/II Study of the Antibody-Drug Conjugate Glembatumumab Vedotin in Patients With Locally Advanced or Metastatic Breast Cancer

Dr. Linda Vahdat and her colleagues are very excited to be involved in the development of glembatumuma vedotin as it has the potential to be among the very first drugs for triple negative breast cancer.

http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2014/09/29/JCO.2013.52.5683.full.pdf+html

Recently Opened Study: Triple Negative Breast Cancer Program

The Weill Cornell Breast Center recently opened a new triple negative breast cancer program. The study is for women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. There is an urgent need to develop new, targeted treatments for triple negative breast cancer. Through our Program, we plan to integrate research, treatment and education to accelerate and identify new targets and strategies to treat and cure triple negative breast cancer.

For more information about the study, please call Margie for a consult appointment with Dr. Vahdat at (212)-821-0644 and contact Naomi for more information at (212)-821-0984 or naw2007@med.cornell.edu.

“From a patient perspective this study requires very little of participants.  I think that for post-treatment women like me the opportunity to participate so easily in cutting edge research at a world-class institution like WCMC is a great way to ‘pay it forward’ in appreciation to all those women whose participation in past clinical trials directly benefited us in terms of improvements in how breast cancer is treated. This is an exceedingly rare opportunity!”

– Triple Negative Breast Cancer Program participant

MasterCard Gives Grant to Weill Cornell for Women’s Cancer Research

MasterCard has announced a $500,000 grant to Weill Cornell Medical College to support women’s cancer research.

The grant will be used to to start or continue scientific investigations in developing breakthrough therapies in a variety of women’s cancers including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer.

Click here to read the press release.

Dr. Vahdat Presents Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Update Webinar

Dr. Vahdat

Dr. Vahdat

Dr. Linda Vahdat, director of the Weill Cornell Breast Center Research Program and Chief of the Solid Tumor Service at Weill Cornell, will be presenting a metastatic breast cancer research update for Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s free webinar on
Wednesday, October 16th from 12 noon to 1 pm.

In the webinar, Dr. Vahdat will help viewers explore:

  • the latest clinical trial findings and their impact on today’s available treatment options
  • novel therapies in the research pipeline and the role they may play in future care
  • the latest understanding of what may cause metastasis and how we might prevent it in the future

Click here for more information about the free webinar. Click here to register for the webinar.

Recently Opened Study: DigniCap Cold Cap in Early Stage Breast Cancer

The Weill Cornell Breast Center has recently opened a new cold cap research study. The study is for women with early stage breast cancer who will be receiving chemotherapy that has a high probability of causing them to lose their hair.

The study sponsor is Dignitana, and the principal investigator at Weill Cornell is Dr. Tessa Cigler. For more information about the study, please call Marta Cobham, RN at (212) 821-0780 or e-mail Marta at mac2034@med.cornell.edu.

Key Eligibility

Women age 18 and older
Stage I or II breast cancer
Planned course of chemotherapy in the adjuvant or neoadjuvant setting
Plan to complete chemotherapy within 6 months
Detailed eligibility reviewed when you contact the study team

Study Details

The purpose of the study is to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of an experimental medical device called the DigniCap System, a cooling system designed to help prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss. Scalp cooling works by constricting the small blood vessels around the hair follicles so that less chemotherapy reaches the follicle. Hair cells are therefore not exposed to the full dose of chemotherapy and survive the chemotherapy treatment. As a result, hair is less likely to be lost.

Study participants will wear the DigniCap cooling cap on their head for 30 minutes before starting a chemotherapy treatment, during the chemotherapy infusion and for up to 90 minutes after the infusion is finished. Participants will wear the cap for three to six hours during each chemotherapy treatment, depending on the chemotherapy regimen.

Participants will be photographed as part of the research study to assess hair loss. Participants will be seen 4 weeks after their final chemotherapy cycle, and then 3 and 6 months later for follow-up.

Click here to view all current clinical trials at the Breast Center.

 

AP Article Discusses Cold Caps Research Including WCMC Breast Center

A recent Associated Press article discussed research on cold caps taking place at various research centers throughout the United States, including the Weill Cornell Breast Center. Click here to read the article.

The Weill Cornell Breast Center has an ongoing, investigator-initiated cold caps clinical trial led by Dr. Tessa Cigler. Click here to view Dr. Cigler discussing cold caps on WABC news.