A look at Multiple Myeloma with UCSF’s Dr. Jeffrey L. Wolf
The philanthropy of brothers Nick and Giles English, founders of Bremont Watch Company, is inspiring. They have developed several limited edition watches tied to causes about which they feel passionate. These initiatives have helped restore the HMS Victory, the grounds at Bletchley Park, as well as assisted the funding of a museum dedicated to the Wright Brothers. In that spirit, Topper Fine Jewelers is thrilled to be doing a limited edition Bremont watch celebrating our 75th anniversary and donating a portion of the proceeds from each watch to support cancer research at UCSF.
Below is an interview with Jeffrey L. Wolf, MD, the director of the myeloma program at UCSF. This conversation will help explain our choice of charity and highlight what is possible with investments in cutting edge research medicine.
Rob Caplan: Before 2008, when my father, Bill Caplan was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I had never heard of the disease. I’m guessing that many of our readers haven’t heard of it either. Could you describe the disease and talk about how many people it affects in the United States?
Dr. Wolf: Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the white cells that produce antibodies that protect people from infection. If one of these cells becomes malignant, it can produce trillions of cells like itself. All of these cells then produce proteins that are nonfunctional antibodies. These cells also produce substances that erode the bones and thus cause complications such as compression fractures of the spine, ribs, or other bones. These patients are also quite immunocompromised since their normal antibody factories are not working. They therefore are subject to many infections.
Approximately 24,000 patients will develop myeloma in the United States in any given year.
Rob Caplan: UCSF is known for its world class research. Can you talk about UCSF’s role as a leader in the research of multiple myeloma?
Dr. Wolf: Our program consists indeed of world class research at both the benchtop level and in studying new drugs in patients. With the help of our donors and government grants we have been instrumental in testing new drugs in patients and in also developing new drugs at UCSF that are about to enter testing.
Rob Caplan: How does UCSF’s role as a research university affect the care it can provide its patients (such as it did for my father)?
Dr. Wolf: We like to believe our patients, such as your father, receive the best care anywhere by receiving their care at the University. At UCSF they have access to all of the latest drugs as well as access to many physicians who specialize in this disease.
Rob Caplan: I remember that he would often talk about new drugs and therapies that had just become available, and then debating whether or not they would be helpful to him. How often are new treatment options made available when treating multiple myeloma?
Dr Wolf: Quite often. If patients are no longer responding to standard therapies, they are offered experimental drugs. Once in a while these prove to be miracle drugs which very soon will be on the shelf and available to any other physician to order, but when their first introduced, they are only available at the university.
Rob Caplan: When I reflect back on him talking to me about his treatment, I remember how analytical it was. I remember him constantly studying the data from his blood tests and I know that he really felt that he was part of the process in his care. Do you have any memories you’d like to share from treating him?
Dr. Wolf: Your father was a delight to care for. He was intimately involved in decision making and, as such, was a partner in his care. I also need not tell you what a lovely, humble, generous man he was.
Rob Caplan: What would his quality of life have been like had he been diagnosed with the disease twenty years earlier?
Dr. Wolf: Twenty years earlier, he may not have lived beyond two years from diagnosis.
Rob Caplan: Have there been any recent breakthroughs in the research or treatment of multiple myeloma in the last few years?
Dr. Wolf: Indeed, in the last 10 to 15 years, five new drugs have been approved and we expect, later this year, another two will be approved. The results of this are that patients, instead of living two years or so, are now living eight years in most cases. An example of the great progress we have made is a new antibody that was not available 2 to 3 years ago, but which might be available later this year and works in many patients for whom no other therapy works.
Rob Caplan: When you look at the progression of research over the past 20 years, what do you think is possible in the next 20?
Dr. Wolf: I truly believe we will be curing more than half of the patients with myeloma in the next five years.
Rob Caplan: For those that would like to donate directly to the the UCSF Stephen and Nancy Grand Multiple Myeloma Translational Initiative (MMTI) at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, what’s the best way?
Dr. Wolf: They can go directly to our website at: http://makeagift.ucsf.edu/grandmmti/. They can also email Melanie Ranen, Director of Development for the Grand MMTI, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 476-5079. To learn more about the Grand MMTI, visit: http://cancer.ucsf.edu/research/multiple-myeloma/mmti/. Thank you for your support!The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.