Apr 10, 2020
Lawrence Einhorn wanted to practice general medicine alongside the father he revered. Life interfered with that dream, but along the way, he discovered the cure for testicular cancer. In 1974, patients facing a disease with a then five-percent cure rate followed the lead of an ambitious but humble young scientist who had unwittingly concocted a miracle mix of chemotherapy. Dr. Einhorn, a Conquer Cancer board member and generous donor, speaks with friend and colleague Patrick Loehrer about his “walk on the moon” that outsmarted what was once the deadliest form of male cancer.
Lawrence Einhorn, a physician and researcher, speaks with friend and colleague Patrick Loehrer about how growing up in Dayton, Ohio, he was inspired to become a physician because of his father's work as a doctor. At a relatively young age, Dr. Einhorn developed a breakthrough treatment for testicular cancer, combining a drug known as platinum with drugs already in use. This resulted in a cure for the once deadly disease.
Dr. Einhorn is a generous supporter of the Conquer Cancer Foundation, as well as a committed member of the foundation's board of directors. Dr. Einhorn begins this segment speaking about his relationship with his dad.
My father was a general practitioner. Our home and his office were in the same building. I grew up admiring him, wanting to be like him, and wanting to be a physician. My goal was to go to medical school and to eventually go back into Dayton, Ohio, and it was going to be Einhorn & Einhorn. And the two of us would be working together. Because of illnesses that he had subsequently during my internship and residency, he had to retire, so that goal never eventuated.
What made you think about going into oncology?
I was romanced by the field of hematology oncology. I felt that taking care of these patients was a real calling. I thought advances were about to be made in the field in the next several years. And this is what I wanted to be by the end of my internship and the start of my residency.
You went to undergraduate at Indiana University, where you did your residency.
Yes, and when I came to Indiana University, I was not intuitive enough or smart enough to think I was going to come up with a successful treatment for testis cancer.
You're very well known because of putting together this wonderful miracle regimen where other people hadn't done it at that time. Here you are as an oncologist. You grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Here's the disease that's the most deadly for young men, and then suddenly you put together this idea for a trial. And what was going on your mind when you first saw these results?
In 1974, when we started our first platinum study, we had no idea it was going to be effective. Even in my youthful exuberance, I never would have dreamed that we would have such a high cure rate. And the fact that we could take a solid tumor and go from a 5% cure rate to, at that time, curing half of the patients-- in your lifetime, you are lucky if you make a difference in people's lives. And this was my walk on the moon, so to speak.
You do this once in your lifetime, to do something and to do it at a relatively young age in your career, that really changed the face of testis cancer, going from a routinely incurable disease, except for a small minority of patients, to a disease that is now highly curable. So it certainly changed my career. But more importantly, it changed the lives and allowed these young patients to have their lives back again.
I think about over the years, some of the patients you've seen. You might explain a little bit about John Cleland and patients that have impacted your life beyond just the disease.
John Cleland was the first patient to be cured with platinum. He had failed to be cured with three different chemotherapy regimens when we met him for the first time in August of 1974. We had no idea that giving him platinum combination chemotherapy would make him live longer, let alone cure his disease. But we did know that he would get terribly sick from it.
It's relatively easier after a couple years, where we knew we were curing patients, that we could tell someone that they would get sick from platinum before we had effective antinausea and vomiting drugs, but they would be cured of their disease. John was very altruistic. He had just graduated from college and was not yet sick from his metastatic testis cancer.
And to be in the hospital for five days in a row having severe nausea and vomiting, do the same thing three weeks later, three weeks later, and three weeks later takes a great deal of courage and determination. That's a remarkable individual who was able to do that. And to be able to see patients start off as an 18- or 21- or 25-year-old, and we're seeing them 5, 10, 15 years later, that's why I have the best job in oncology.
If your dad was sitting here right now, what would you like to say to him? And what would you think he would say back to you?
Well, I would hope that he would be as proud of me as I was of him.
The Conquer Cancer Foundation's mission is to conquer cancer worldwide by funding breakthrough research and sharing cutting-edge knowledge. To learn more about the participants in this session and others like it, please visit conquer.org/storycorps.