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Professor Researches Treatments


In early 1997, James Benson of Henderson, Nevada, learned two things which shocked him. He had always been in excellent health, but in January 1997 he awakened, panting. He got an appointment at the University Hospital in Iowa City. The doctors there found 3 ½ liters of fluid in the area of his right lung, and a CT scan showed growths there as well. A week later, Dr. Benson had a thoroscopic examination, and was shocked to learn he had stage one, epithelioid type mesothelioma.

The second shock occurred when his doctor informed him of the lack of effective treatments for mesothelioma. Dr. Benson had taught flight instruction in the army, then studied philosophy, marketing, and science, obtained his Ph.D., and became a distinguished university professor and dean. He has devoted his life to learning, teaching and the advancement of knowledge. Yet when it came to a matter of his own life or death, the doctors said they lacked the basic knowledge of how to treat his disease.

Dr. Benson was told of an FDA trial program at the University of Iowa's Department of Chemotherapy. But the department representative gave little to no hope for Dr. Benson's case, and only left him more upset. Dr. Benson then learned of a gene therapy trial at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, conducted by Dr. Daniel Sterman and Dr. Larry Kaiser (both Dr. Sterman and Dr. Kaiser are members of MARF's Science Advisory Board). Dr. Benson was admitted into this trial program for a three week period in May-June 1997. After another thoroscopic examination, he was injected with a fluid containing the carrier adeno virus and an altered gene from the herpes virus. The objective was to infect the cancer cells themselves with the virus. Five days later, he began receiving infusions of gancliclovir, to kill off the infections, including the hopefully infected cancer cells. Dr. Benson tolerated the protocol well, but after six months of follow-up examinations he found it necessary to have fluid drained again and again. In December 1997, Dr. Sterman suggested that he consider alternative protocols.

With the help of his youngest daughter, Dr. Benson searched the Internet for alternatives, and found that the University of Chicago was involved in a trial program testing the chemotherapy drug, Onconase. Dr. Benson met with Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang (a member of MARF's Board of Directors), was accepted into Dr. Vogelzang's study and began treatment with Onconase in March 1998.

The protocol for Onconase required weekly infusions followed by a physical examination. Dr. Benson continued this treatment plan from March until November 1998. He had developed significant arthritic conditions, so in November Dr. Vogelzang took him off the Onconase for a ten week rest period. The arthritis disappeared. At the end of the ten week rest period, a CT scan showed no growth of the tumor. Dr. Vogelzang suggested he continue for an additional ten weeks of rest and then have another CT scan. This time, the CT scan showed significant growth during the second rest period.

Dr. Vogelzang then recommended that Dr. Benson begin treatment with TAS 103. Dr. Benson began this treatment protocol in March 1999. It requires one infusion per week for three weeks, followed by two weeks' rest, followed by another three weeks of infusions and another two weeks of rest, and then another CT scan. Assuming the tumor has not grown during this ten week cycle, Dr. Benson begins the cycle again. Through these chemotherapy cycles, Dr. Benson has not had major physical pain, but he still experiences significant shortness of breath. After each infusion, he is tired and somewhat nauseous for about three days. His white and red blood counts drop below their usual ranges; thus the need for the rest period, so he can recuperate.

Dr. Benson successfully went through seven of these ten week cycles, without any significant tumor growth. However, Dr. Benson's CT in June 2000, showed that the tumor had grown again. Dr. Vogelzang has scheduled Dr. Benson to begin an antiangiogenesis drug on August 14, 2000. Unlike conventional chemotherapy, which aims to directly kill the tumor cells, the aim of antiangiogenesis is to in effect starve them by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels required by the tumor.

Dr. Benson realizes that he is not as strong as he was prior to his illness; but he is grateful to have reached the age of 75, and to have been blessed with his wife of 52 years, Maran, and their beautiful four children and grandchildren. He has taken the time to write his autobiography, in order to reflect on his life and help his children and grandchildren learn from it. And he reaches out to help others learn about mesothelioma, by coordinating a mesothelioma support group which he started with the help of his physicians.

For Dr. Benson, with his desire to know and understand, "The cruelty of this disease is that you never really know what is going on inside of you."

*** POSTED JULY 31, 2000 ***

We are sad to inform you that Dr. James Benson lost the fight against Mesothelioma on the morning of November 23rd. He had a positive and optimistic outlook throughout his three and a half year battle, which we believe had a major impact on the success of his treatments. The last treatment that he was on held such promise. There was a substantial reduction in the tumor sizes, he felt strong and alive, and was able to continue the 'quality of life' that he wanted. The family owes a debt of gratitude to all of the doctors, nurses, and researchers who helped to give us the quality years that we had...Numerous family vacations, holidays, and the most important, everyday life. As an educator, Dr. Benson loved to help others. This passion extended into his battle with cancer. He assisted in the founding of a mesothelioma support group, and in doing so, was able to help others find their way after receiving the shocking news "you have cancer." He researched treatment alternatives, invested in research companies, wrote articles, advised with litigation options, prayed, and most importantly, extended himself to others by taking the time to talk to the people who were going through the same things. He received much comfort from performing these acts, it helped him work through the issues and come to terms with the disease. The family is currently celebrating the life of their husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, brother, and most importantly, friend. Thank you one and all for your support and friendship that each of you extended to Jim throughout the months and years that he knew you. Good luck and may God be with you. -- The Benson Family

The family requests that sympathy contributions be donated to The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (

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