James F. Kellam, MD, is an expert at maintaining composure and a steady hand. As an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in repairing trauma for most of his career, he has helped restore the lives of countless individuals in their most critical time of need. But when an annual physical indicated he might have prostate cancer, Kellam felt the anxiety crack his poise.
“You can do nothing and hope the cancer doesn’t advance, you can undergo radiation therapy, or you can have a terrible operation to remove the prostate,” he says. “I knew I would have to make some tough decisions.”
Unsure where to begin, Kellam asked a colleague for a recommendation. Without hesitation, she directed him to Steven E. Canfield, MD, a physician-scientist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth who is developing groundbreaking therapies for people suffering from prostate or kidney cancer.
Canfield confirmed that Kellam had prostate cancer and explained the traditional options—monitor the cancer’s progression, endure radiation therapy, or have a radical prostatectomy to remove the prostate.
Radiation therapy can last for eight weeks and require testosterone suppression therapy for up to two years, causing exhaustion, hot flashes, impotence, and weight gain. Recovery from a prostatectomy can take up to six weeks and may result in urinary incontinence for up to one year and permanent erectile dysfunction.
“All of a sudden I saw a glint in his eye,” says Kellam. “He told me there was another option.”
A new gold treatment
“Because Dr. Kellam’s cancer was localized and not aggressive, he was a candidate for our clinical trial testing gold nanoparticle technology to eradicate prostate cancer,” says Canfield.
Kellam remembers staring at Canfield in disbelief: “You can give me a magic potion and wave a magic wand, and the cancer will disappear? Sign me up!”
The process involves an intravenous infusion of gold nanoparticles—microscopic spheres of silica enveloped in gold—that travel through the bloodstream to the tumor, saturating prostate cancer cells but not the surrounding healthy tissues. Then, guided by MRI, Canfield uses a laser to activate the nanoparticles, causing them to vibrate and destroy the cancer cells while leaving the normal tissue intact. In total, the nanoparticle therapy requires just a few hours, and patients can return to their lives immediately.
Kellam received his infusion in May 2019. He returned the next day, and Canfield used a laser to activate the nanoparticles and destroy the cancer cells.
“My only complaint was that the fluid bag, which contained a little more than $5 worth of gold, was actually blue,” jokes Kellam.
Three months later, a biopsy showed no evidence of the cancer.
“I feel guilty,” he says. “A colleague was diagnosed with lung cancer around the time I found out I had prostate cancer, and he is suffering through radiation and chemotherapy, unable to leave his home. Meanwhile, I spent a total of a few hours with Dr. Canfield, and I’m cancer free.”
Turning the tide against prostate cancer
In August 2019, Canfield’s team reported that one year out, the gold nanoparticle therapy successfully treated prostate cancer in 15 out of the 16 initial patients. The first round of the trial includes 45 patients across three sites: McGovern Medical School, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the University of Michigan Medical School. The second round, expanding the study to 100 patients, was launched in September 2019. Researchers hope it will lead to FDA approval.
“Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States,” explains Canfield. “This treatment could change the lives of many men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.”
Kellam hopes others continue to benefit from Canfield’s care and ingenuity.
“We have many incredible institutions in the Texas Medical Center, yet I didn’t think twice about choosing Dr. Canfield,” says Kellam.
“Our faculty at UTHealth are among the best in the world. I can genuinely say I trust and respect my colleagues.”