Researching clinical trials is a formidable challenge. Figuring out which trials offer the most promise to a particular patient is a monumental job, with life-altering implications. With hundreds of thousands of registered clinical trials across the country, it’s no wonder most people are overwhelmed at the prospect of it all.
That’s where nurses like Kelly Laschinger come in. As manager of the Clinical Trial Support Center at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), she is part of a team of nurse navigators helping guide patients and providers through the complexities of identifying appropriate trials for treating blood cancers.
One important aspect of the job is to educate people about where clinical research can fit into a patient’s journey. “There are trials available for wherever you are in your disease,” explains Kelly Laschinger, MSN, RN, CPNP, CPHON. “People often think trials are only useful for patients who have exhausted their options or when there is no standard of care available, but there are trials available for everyone, from newly diagnosed patients to patients who have relapsed to patients in remission.”
In addition to offering free, personalized support from nurse navigators, LLS provides in-depth digital education programs on its own site and on PlatformQ Health’s learning channels, led by some of the foremost leaders in blood cancers. “It’s really exciting to see patients be able to ask live questions to an expert they otherwise wouldn’t have access to,” she said. “That’s really powerful.”
Exploring Clinical Trial Options
The landscape of clinical trials is ever growing, with each trial having its own unique set of goals and eligibility criteria. It can be hard for families to search sites like clinicaltrials.gov and decipher what they’re looking for.
As registered nurses with expertise in blood cancers, nurse navigators like Laschinger work one-on-one with patients and families to learn about their treatment goals, gain a deep appreciation for their individual situation, walk them through what’s involved with being in a trial, comb through trial eligibility criteria, identify appropriate trials as well as any early trial results, help address hurdles the family may be facing, and support them in enrolling in a trial.
As part of this role, nurse navigators advocate on behalf of patients, helping them access financial resources through LLS, other advocacy organizations, and trial sponsors.
An Extension of the Healthcare Team
It would be impossible for any doctor to know about every single trial option across the country for any given patient. That’s why many oncologists and hematologists reach out to the Clinical Trial Support Center for help researching trial options for their patients.
“We try to take some of the workload off the patient’s healthcare team,” Laschinger said. “Doctors and nurses are so busy. Working through clinical trial eligibility, calling sites, and getting connected to the right investigator all takes time. We don’t give recommendations on treatment. We do the legwork to identify suitable trials, so the patient can bring that list of trials back to their doctor and have a meaningful discussion about their options.”
Helping Children with Cancer
As a board-certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse, Laschinger has spent her career helping children and families faced with a cancer diagnosis. It all started with one patient. “By chance I ended up working on the oncology floor during my rotation in nursing school,” she recalled. “I took care of a little boy who was getting transplanted. For those eight weeks, I got to take care of him every day, and I loved that. I really got to know his family and what they were going through, and have the chance to help them. From that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue pediatric oncology.”
She went on to join Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, where she played an instrumental role in developing the Multidisciplinary Survivorship and Neuro-Oncology programs. “I had the opportunity to take care of patients for years and years, from diagnosis all the way through survivorship,” she said. “I had a patient who was four when he was diagnosed with leukemia and now he’s in medical school.”
Laschinger served in pediatric oncology nurse practitioner inpatient and outpatient roles for nearly 20 years at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital prior to joining LLS. “I love being able to really impact patients at LLS, even though I’m not with them in the hospital,” she said. Today, she helps pediatric cancer patients and their families explore clinical trial options. A passionate advocate of pediatric cancer patients, she is a key team member involved in novel LLS initiatives, including the Pediatric Acute Leukemia master trial (PedAL).
The way children respond to therapy is distinctly different than adults, making it crucial to focus research specifically on childhood diseases. Through the Pediatric Acute Leukemia master trial, LLS is working to change how children with high-risk leukemias are treated, by testing multiple targeted therapies simultaneously at clinical sites across the country. Through this work, the hope is that clinicians will be able to sequence gene changes in a child’s leukemia and match those to the right drugs to combat the disease.
Supporting Personalized Medicine
As more targeted therapies like this become available, it’s even more important to have advocates like LLS who can help patients and providers explore the right trial options for their specific condition. “When I first started in my career, every child with acute myeloid leukemia got the same treatment,” Laschinger said. “Now it can be more personalized and targeted. For a researcher to be able to look at the bone marrow of a person with acute myeloid leukemia and see what their DNA looks like to find the best options for that child is so exciting.”
Many patients reach out to LLS because they want a trial that offers more than chemotherapy. The team at LLS is well versed in personalized medicine that goes beyond traditional chemotherapy. The caliber of nurses on the team is impressive, such as former CAR T nurse Crissy Kus. “She’s taken care of patients on CAR T trials at the institution where she worked, so she really has a finger on the pulse of what it means for a family to go through that type of therapy,” said Laschinger.
Now ten members strong, the Clinical Trial Support Center continues to flourish and serve the needs of patients and providers. “All the nurses have amazing experience, and work together to share knowledge to get patients the most up-to-date information we can provide,” she said. “It’s such a privilege to become close to patients and be able to help them in some small way. We all love that about our job.”
In addition, Laschinger is passionate about fundraising for pediatric cancer, joining her family at LLS’s signature Light the Night celebration. “Seeing everyone involved in the community, from caregivers to patients, come together and light up the sky with lanterns, cheering the people who trained and fundraised when they cross the finish line is breathtaking!”
Learn more about The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Have any questions about our educational initiatives or partnership opportunities? Reach out to us at email@example.com.