Throughout his years of groundbreaking research, endocrinologist Dr. David Vesely never gave curing cancer a lot of thought.
But then it became personal.
"We started to work on cancer when my wife died of breast cancer seven years ago," Vesely said.
His wife, Clo, died in 2002, leaving Vesely and their five children behind. Vesely said he directed his sorrow into his work at the James A. Haley Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and seven years later he may have a breakthrough.
An Idea From the Heart
Vesely said it was originally his son's idea to conduct research. Brian, who was 16 when his mother died, was looking for a way to channel his grief a month after his mother's death.
In the late 1980s, Vesely, focusing on heart disease, discovered three hormones made by the heart that prevented normal heart cells from getting bigger and multiplying. He wondered if they could also control cancer cell growth.
Vesely and Brian set up an experiment and left cancer cells and heart hormones alone in a Petri dish. The cancer cells were blown apart by the body's own hormones.
"Well, the cells blew apart. So we thought, 'maybe we did something wrong,'" Vesely said. "Because you never know ... but the second time, we knew it was real."
Vesely began studying the effect on mice that had been injected with human cancer cells, by pumping the hormones under their skin.
"Usually after a month, they eliminate up to 80 percent of human pancreatic cancers growing in the mice," Vesely said.
Since then Vesely said he has eliminated other deadly forms of human cancers in mice, including 67 percent of breast cancers and 86 percent of small cell lung cancers, all with almost no side effects.
Although Vesely, 66, said he wouldn't go as far as to call it a cure for cancer, he is hopeful.
"But if it does cure one cancer in human, it will cure almost all of them, or eliminate them," Vesely said.
Vesely's Finding Met With Hope and Caution
Vesely published his work, and although the medical world is intrigued, it is also cautious.
"I think that there's potentially promise here, but I think the real question is whether these very potent hormones will be tolerable at the doses required," said Dr. Mark Ratain from the University of Chicago.
Vesely said he is also cautious about raising expectations "because you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself."
Human Clinical Trials to Begin
Kalos Therapeutics is raising money for the first human clinical trials for Vesely's findings. But as Vesely waits, he said he is feeling the urgency from hundreds of e-mails from people dying of cancer asking when his treatment will be ready.
"It's mostly funding. They need money to move ahead," Vesely said.
"If we can make some dent in cancer ... it will be spectacular," Vesely added.