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Published on January 30, 2020

Kris Loeser with Dr. Parsons

New cancer treatment is right on target

Kristine (Kris) Loeser, 69, of Holmen, Wis., is a country girl at heart. Born and raised on a farm in La Crosse, Kris adores animals (especially her dog Smokey), flowers and gazing at the sky.

Yet, even when the skies have been grey, Kris found a way to see through life's challenges.

In 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram at Gundersen Health System.

"Fortunately, my cancer was detected early and was only the size of a grain of rice," Kris recalls. Four years after finishing what she hoped would be curative treatment, the breast cancer spread to a lung and her bones.

Benjamin Parsons, DOBenjamin Parsons, DO

"The words metastatic breast cancer scared the living daylights out of me," recalls Kris, who, days later, was introduced to Gundersen hematologist and medical oncologist Benjamin Parsons, DO.

A strong advocate for cancer research, Dr. Parsons and his colleague Paraic Kenny, PhD, director of Gundersen Medical Foundation's Kabara Cancer Research Institute, recommended Kris enroll in a clinical research trial known as APILOT (Adaptive Patient Instructed Longitudinal Optimization of Therapy) that studies new approaches to treat people with incurable cancers.

"I had nothing to lose. If anything, I knew that my participation could help someone else," Kris shares.

Next-generation cancer genome sequencing—provided through Gundersen Medical Foundation's Research Department's partnership with Strata Oncology—found Kris' tumor had a rare mutation, or alteration, known as ROS1 fusion.

"We are entering an era of modern medical sciences where the next generation of treatments really are a significant step forward for patients, and clinical trials are the way to bring these to all of society," states Benjamin Parsons, DO, Hematology and Medical Oncology.

Based on the identified mutation, Dr. Parsons prescribed targeted therapy rather than standard-of-care chemotherapy. This customized approach to cancer treatment, also known as precision medicine, targets mutated genes in a tumor rather than the part of the body affected by cancer.

"Kris has been on targeted therapy on and off since May 2018, and it has been the only thing that has worked against her cancer," reports Dr. Parsons.

Thanks to cutting-edge clinical trials and participants, like Kris, Gundersen's Research team can help evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. For example, by opening the Strata Oncology screening protocol at Gundersen, close to 440 patients in the Tri-state Region have already participated in precision medicine clinical trials.

"I can't tell you how much this means to me to be in an institution where you can go past what the standard of care is. You can offer patients options that are not available in other places. To have Dr. Kenny and his research team working alongside us to better understand the conditions affecting our patients is very valuable. It's something that I believe few institutions in the world have, let alone here in Wisconsin. It puts us in a very elite category," Dr. Parsons says.

For patients, precision medicine clinical trials offer newfound hope—sunshine on a cloudy day. Support for research like this is made possible through the generosity of grateful patients and philanthropic support of Gundersen Medical Foundation.

"Between God and Dr. Parsons, I'm still here. God has me here for a reason. I would love to talk someone through this because you can't do it alone," Kris says.

Your gifts give hope

Thanks to the generosity of our community, Gundersen Medical Foundation can invest in cutting-edge laboratory research and clinical trials at the Kabara Cancer Research Institute to help drive changes in how cancer is treated. Watch how Gundersen researchers are personalizing cancer treatments.

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