A 9-year-old New Jersey boy battling cancer may have found a breakthrough treatment, thanks to an unorthodox procedure involving mice.
Michael Feeney, a spunky, talkative kid who loves sports, has been battling a rare form of bone cancer since he was 6. The cancer forced a shoulder blade replacement, and Michael has been in and out of chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
When the cancer recently reoccurred, the boy's parents dared do what most cannot: they paid a lab to inject mice with pieces of their son's tumor to see which drug combinations, if any, would work on the mice. One did, and later on Michael, too. His tumors are now shrinking and his cancer cells are dying.
"We were thrilled," said his mother, Jill Feeney. "It's just what we wanted to hear, that there was something out there, if we needed it, that worked on his specific tumor."
"Right now, I feel really good," said Michael.
His oncologist, Dr. Leonard Wexler, told NBC 4 New York, "Had he not received this therapy or had it not worked, I'm not certain he would still be with us today."
The methods used on Michael highlight a growing belief among researchers that the best way to fight cancer is to customize treatment to the patient's genetic makeup. But whatever is saving the boy's life is not without side effects or cost: his hands are covered with an itchy rash and one that was so painful on his feet, he had to rely on a wheelchair to get around. The lab work that identified the healing formula totaled $25,000, not covered by insurance.
"We had a rainy day fund, and this is what you do," said Jill Feeney. "You have the money in the bank. The worst that could happen is you lose money. The best that could happen is he's cured from cancer. We signed a paper saying if it works for him, try it on other kids. That's how cures happen."
Michael has lost his hair again and is tired after treatment, but still manages to do well in school and play town soccer and lacrosse. He remains a beacon of optimism with a child's impatience.
"When is this going to go away?" he wonders. "I just want to be done with this and go one with my life."