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Economics professor cancer-free after immunotherapy trial for skin cancer

Middle-aged man (Dr. David Gray) standing with hands in pockets

Economics professor Dr. David Gray took part in a clinical trial to see whether an immunotherapy drug could keep his high-risk skin cancer from coming back. Four years later, he’s still cancer-free.

 Dr. David Gray’s cancer was hiding in plain sight.

“It was a blemish on my cheek that just wouldn’t heal,” said the University of Ottawa economics professor and father of two. “My dermatologist didn’t like it, so he had it tested.”

When his dermatologist removed the pea-sized tumour from Dr. Gray’s face, further tests revealed that it was Stage 3c melanoma. He was at high risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of his body.

Dr. Song

“He’s remained cancer-free, and the hope is that he is cured from the disease.” -Dr. Xinni Song

“During the initial visit, the surgeon told me that the five-year survival was below 40 percent,” he said.

Faced with those odds, he decided to join a clinical trial that compared an immunotherapy drug called ipilimumab to interferon, the currently publicly-funded treatment used to keep melanoma from returning.

Ipilimumab helps the immune system attack cancer cells anywhere in the body. However, it can have serious side effects. After Dr. Gray’s fourth treatment, his hormonal (endocrine) system went into crisis, and he was hospitalized for four days. He continues to take hormone replacement medication today

These kinds of side effects have motivated researchers to look for more effective and safer options, said Dr. Xinni Song, his oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital.

“Physicians treating melanoma are looking for something better to keep the cancer from coming back,” said Dr. Song, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “Our patients are very keen to take part in clinical trials, which can not only help them, but future patients as well.”

Four years after taking part in the trial, Dr. Gray is still cancer-free. The results of the trial are still to be published.

“You can’t attribute my survival 100 percent to the treatment. But my wife certainly does,” said Dr. Gray.

“For me, it was very meaningful that he can enjoy his life with his family and go back to work and continue to teach,” said Dr. Song. “He’s remained cancer-free, and the hope is that he is cured from the disease.”

To spot melanoma early, Dr. Song recommended that you tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin, such as new spots or marks that grow or change in colour.

The Ottawa Hospital is a major centre for cancer immunotherapy clinical trials. Researchers at the hospital are also developing new kinds of immunotherapy, such as cancer-fighting viruses and genetically-engineered immune cells. The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for cancer research.


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Adam - May 3, 2018


Dr. Gray was easily one of the best professors I had while at Ottawa U who managed to give me an appreciation for economics. Glad to hear he is back to teaching and shaping the lives of more young adults.

Margaret Tojo - May 8, 2018

This is a miraculous outcome for Dr. Gray. Thank you and congratulations to Canadian Medicine.

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