Donn Young, PhD
Of all the surprises that Donn Young, PhD, might have imagined receiving for his 60th birthday, a diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer wasn't one of them. But that's what he got.
Just a few days before, during a preoperation visit for a routine back surgery, he had requested a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which can detect prostate cancer. "It was just on a whim," Young recalls. "I had no symptoms, but it had been a few years since I'd had a PSA."
PSA levels in healthy men are usually less than four; Young's came back at 78, and a repeat test showed them at 90. As a biostatistician who had designed and managed clinical trials with the cancer program at the OSUCCC – James for more than three decades, Young knew there was something terribly wrong.
Young said, "I'd worked with enough research data and crunched enough numbers to know."
On his birthday, Young had a prostate biopsy that confirmed cancer with bone metastasis to several vertebrae, his right shoulder and hip, and a couple of ribs. "Having your prostate biopsied instead of blowing out candles is no fun," he said, adding that the results were even worse, since there is no known cure for his advanced illness.
Young turned to the OSUCCC – James, where Steven Clinton, MD, PhD, enrolled him in a clinical trial that involves a pair of drugs. The first drug stops the body's production of testosterone and androgen, while the other blocks those hormones from binding to tumor cells. The trial is designed to determine whether an intermittently administered regimen of this therapy is as effective as continuous therapy in promoting overall survival.
"This is an equivalency rather than a curative trial," Young explains, noting that the study opened in 1995 and accrued patients until October 2008. "So it's taken all these years to find out whether the intermittent regimen is as good as what the standard of care was when the trial started." The median survival time for men on this trial is 34 months.
In May 2009, Young had reached the 29-month mark, and his PSA levels were virtually undetectable. "So far, so good," he said. "But the reality is that at some point this cancer always escapes hormonal control. My hope is that, through this therapy, I can buy a number of years until they can find out why and devise another targeted therapy."
Young knows the only way to make progress against his and other forms of cancer is for more people to enroll in science-based therapeutic clinical trials that can turn discoveries into innovative treatments.
Although retired from Ohio State, Young stays active and upbeat. He works out at a gym every day, serves as PTA treasurer at his daughter's school and coaches youth volleyball.
Understanding the need for continued funding to support cancer research, he also signed on to ride in the inaugural Pelotonia, a three-day bicycling event that has raised over $67 million for the OSUCCC – James since the event started in 2009.
"I never have been much of a worrier or a negative person," he said. "I just take each day as it comes and have fun doing what I want to do. It's always a matter of what you make of life rather than how long you live — but I hope to live a long, long time."