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Exploring research studies and clinical trials

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ATLANTA, Ga. -   For Tamara Mobley, coming to Winship Cancer Institute at Emory each week is just part of her life now.  She says, “I have multiple myeloma, which is a blood cancer.  It affects the plasma cells."

      At 38,  and married with 8 and 12 year old sons, Tamara has been battling myeloma for five years now.   A couple of years ago, when her cancer drugs stopped working as well as they had been,  her doctor mentioned a clinical trial for a then-experimental medication, called Pomalidomide.  She says, "I think I took about a couple of weeks to think about it. I read a lot of information, I asked my doctors questions, multiple questions."

      Because Tamara, a sales account manager for Google, knew about the infamous Tuskegee study.   How from the 1940s to the 1970s, hundreds of poor Black men in Alabama, who thought they were being treated for syphilis were secretly denied treatment, so researchers could watch their disease progress.  Mobley says, “I thought about it long and hard, but I did not let that experience impact my decision.  Because for me, I was more concerned about getting myself better and hopefully it would be able to be used on more African Americans.”

    And, she says, when it comes to research studies, there is a lot of misinformation out there.  Like the idea that once you sign up for a trial, you can't quit.  She says,  "That is not true. Fortunately, you do sign a document saying that you agree to participate the trial.  But at the same time you can raise your hand and say, "I'd like to exit the trial." You don't even have to say why."

   Cancer trials typically involve a combination of the best available care and the newer, test medication.  But Dr. Sagar Lonial, Vice Chair of Winship's Department of Hematology and Oncology, says a lot of people still view joining a trial as a final resort, something you do when nothing else works.  He says, “It's not last ditch, end-stage kind of stuff.  A trial can offer an opportunity to try to make a treatment we use now better.  And that's really one of our ultimate goals."

      Dr. Lonial says most trial participants he's treated  are pleased with their care, and would do it again.  That, he says, dispels another myth about clinical studies: that participants may feel like human guinea pigs.  Dr. Lonial says, “Ultimately the big question in a clinical trial is safety.   So, by having all these fail-safes and checks built into the system, you're being watched more closely on a trial than if you were not on a trial."

     The drug Tamara tested, is now FDA-approved.  But it hasn't cured her.  She says, “I am not in remission. But I'm living a really good life. Of course, I do still have cancer. I do still take regular medication. I still am a chemotherapy patient.

    But she's is also still here, living her life, being a mom to her boys and a wife to her husband. 

    For Tamara Mobley, this is enough.

If you think you might be interested in joining a clinical trial, speak to your doctor about your options.

To find more information, go to www.clinicaltrials.gov, which includes information on 169,000+ research studies in all 50 states and 187 countries.  You can search by location and medical condition.

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