Jun 26, 2015 10:00 AM

Author: Cancer Learning Center

Walking into clinic, I found the patient and his wife looking tired and apprehensive. From what I knew of his medical history, his cancer had not responded to any standard treatments, each drug failing to restrain the tumor’s advance for more than a few months. The patient and his wife had talked to their local cancer doctor about clinical trials, had traveled hundreds of miles to Huntsman Cancer Institute, and were clearly anxious to begin the discussion.

For many cancer patients and providers, the prospect of trial participation, especially in the Phase I setting, is both daunting and exciting. Clinical trials give patients the chance to receive new treatments, with the potential of great benefit but also the risk of failure. In order to show the scientific merit of these drugs and keep patients safe, clinical research must be carried out with great precision. The job of the clinical research coordinator is to make sure every detail is taken care of. The coordinator communicates with pharmacists, data coordinators, researchers, specimen processors, nurses, drug companies, regulatory bodies, and especially patients. Coordinators must thoroughly understand the trial’s procedures, FDA regulations, and drug company requirements.

This accounts for only part of our role, however. Creating the positive experience our patients deserve is both a science and an art. We must be prepared, yet able to improvise given the unpredictable nature of the disease we face. We must have passion for the research and a deep sense of empathy. Coordinators are the main resource for both patients and clinic staff on all aspects of study and disease. We act as liaisons between scientists/doctors and their patients, often translating hard science into easy-to-understand terms. We are important members of the patient’s care team, often being the patient’s primary contact for both good and bad news.

Back in that clinic room, I spoke with the patient and his doctor to determine the best clinical research treatment strategy given his circumstance. The doctor often referred to my knowledge of the clinical trial. Once the doctor left, I continued discussing the study with the patient and arranged the consent and screening procedures. When we met a week later, I could see the patient’s relief. The anxiety he had felt about his disease, prognosis, and unknown treatment plan had faded. He felt hope at the thought of a new treatment. He was one of the first few patients in the country to receive this new regimen, and the day he began treatment was exciting for all of us.

Of course, not all treatments are successful and coordinators often feel defeat, as do all members of the patient’s care team. But we continue. Medicine thrives on the small victories, the little advancements towards better outcomes. Research is the only way to move cancer treatment forward, and effective clinical trial coordination is integral to this effort. If we are lucky, we are able to build human connections with our patients along the way. It is truly a privilege to take part in this great work of providing hope through clinical trials.

Cancer Learning Center

Huntsman Cancer Institute

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