Damon Runyon News

November 22, 2016

Damon Runyon staff interviewed Sergei German about his recent cancer journey and the role Damon Runyon scientists played in treating his disease.

Sergei German’s cancer journey started with a bump. More specifically, his wife noticed a small bump on his neck that was ultimately revealed to be follicular lymphoma, an incurable form of cancer.

Nearly as unsettling as the diagnosis was the treatment advice Mr. German received from his primary care physician: He should do nothing about the cancer. But the watch and wait approach didn’t sit well with the 56-year old resident of Queens, New York. So the software engineer did some research on clinical trials for which he might be eligible. His search led him to current Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator, Joshua Brody, MD, at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Josh was leading a clinical trial to improve the way the body’s immune system fights cancer. The trial involved three components of a lymphoma vaccine whose purpose is “to make tumors in the body everywhere melt away,” said Josh.

“My only concern was that maybe I wouldn’t be qualified to participate,” said Sergei. “He examined me very carefully, and when I saw his dedication and how careful he is, I immediately knew I’d like to have Dr. Brody as my physician. He’s very humane and humble, and has a great sense of humor.” Doctors first injected an immune cell recruiting protein, “FLT 3-L,” followed by an immune cell called a TLR Agonist, directly into Sergei’s tumor. Sergei then had two days of radiation therapy. The resulting vaccine trained the immune system to recognize cancer and kill the dangerous cells. The trial put Sergei into partial remission, then without further intervention, a complete remission. He has now been cancer-free for more than a year.

When asked what advice he might give to those newly diagnosed with cancer, Sergei observed: “It’s important to understand, and maybe hard at the start to comprehend, but we are bigger than cancer, our lives are much more important than this little disease, it’s just one of the many things that can happen to people. Keep it in perspective, cancer is just a disease; people have different diseases and you just happen to have this one.”

“I work in the field of bioinformatics as a senior software engineer,” said Sergei. “After my diagnosis, and in working with Dr. Brody, my interest in this field has really deepened. My professional work in this field, the skills I have, is a way for me to give back to other patients just a little bit.”