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Against All Odds

A pancreatic cancer survivor supports immunotherapy research
Mari Tere Brolley with Luis Rios.

Mari Tere Brolley with Luis Rios


uis Rios knew something was wrong when he started experiencing persistent stomach acidity. His doctor initially thought it might be gastritis, but a CT scan and ultrasound revealed a mass on his pancreas that had spread to the liver and lungs. Rios, then 59, had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It was inoperable.

Understanding the severity of this diagnosis, Rios sought out a pancreatic cancer expert. He credits friend and neighbor Tomas A. Salerno, M.D., professor of cardiothoracic surgery and DeWitt Daughtry Endowed Chair in CT surgery at the Miller School, for counseling him through those initial days after diagnosis and referring him to Peter Hosein, M.D., at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, South Florida’s only NCI-designated cancer center, and a part of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.

Dr. Hosein, who serves as co-leader of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Site Disease Group at Sylvester and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Miller School, was able to control Rios’s disease with chemotherapy. After two years of treatment, however, the cancer became resistant. Rios grew weak and suffered intense pain. Both patient and physician knew time was of the essence, as pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

With traditional treatment protocols no longer an option, Dr. Hosein decided to try immunotherapy. It had been proven successful for pancreatic cancer patients with the BRCA mutation, and Rios’s tumor had a similar inherited genetic mutation, RAD51C.

Within days of the first infusion, Rios’s pain went away and his tumor markers started to go down. After 24 months of treatment, he showed no sign of disease and remains cancer-free.

“Dr. Hosein saved my life,” said Rios, who’s now 65. “I firmly believe immunotherapy is the future for cancer treatment.”

That’s why he and his wife, Mari Tere Brolley, made a significant gift to Sylvester, specifically to support Dr. Hosein’s research in immunotherapy.

“We saw miraculous results for Luis and several patients like him with inherited genetic mutations,” Dr. Hosein said. “But now we must conduct larger studies to prove the efficacy of this novel treatment and make it accessible. Their generous philanthropy will allow us to pursue that critical research.”

“The groundbreaking research Dr. Hosein and his team are conducting illustrates the importance of the Sylvester Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute, which opened last year,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Sylvester director and holder of the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. “It combines Sylvester’s clinical strength with world-class research to discover, develop and deliver novel personalized treatments to pancreatic cancer patients.” 

FALL 2023