March 18, 2016 4:52 pm
Updated: March 22, 2016 1:19 pm

Rob Ford’s cutting-edge cancer treatment aimed to take the guesswork out of chemo

Controversial former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has died after a hard-fought battle with a rare form of cancer. Ford died peacefully surrounded by his family at Mount Sinai Hospital on Tuesday.


Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s struggle with cancer had seen him caught, as so many others had been, between the cruelty of the disease and the harshness of the treatments. Radiation, surgery and chemotherapy failed to rid him of tumours.

He’d also undergone an experimental treatment which tried to transfer some of the trial and error of cancer treatment to lab animals. On March 22, after an 18-month battle with a rare form of cancer, Ford passed away at the age of 46.

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He succumbed to complications from a fast-growing cancerous abdominal tumour known as pleomorphic liposarcoma, which was diagnosed in September 2014.

READ MORE: Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford dies after 18-month struggle with rare form of cancer

Ford leaves behind his wife Renata and two children, Stephanie and Douglas.

Months of aggressive radiation treatments were ineffective in treating the cancerous tumour, which doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital also chose to combat with surgery and an innovative targeted chemotherapy known as the Panov Program.

Finding out what strategies will work on someone’s specific, unique tumour can be a life-and-death mystery, with no real guarantee except suffering. But what if you could run experiments on your personal cancer, trying out different treatment strategies, without actually having them tried out on you?

The concept is simple: implant pieces of the patient’s tumour in lab mice, wait for them to grow, give the mice different treatments, and only then decide on the best treatment for the person.

While novel and promising, the experimental treatment was not successful for Ford, who suffered from a rare and aggressive cancer called malignant liposarcoma.

READ MORE: Rob Ford in hospital for tumour in his abdomen

In October, doctors found cancerous growths on his bladder, despite aggressive treatment.

Ford then underwent treatment in an experimental program at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, trying out a “precision chemotherapy” strategy based on giving his cancer to mice and seeing what works on them.

Mount Sinai’s trial, the Panov Program, is named after Yaron Panov, a Thornhill man who credits it with reversing a cancer that doctors called untreatable.

Panov’s cancer was similar to Ford’s. Told he had no hope of recovery when he was diagnosed at 55, he went to the United States to try precision chemotherapy. Tests on mice suggested doctors use a drug designed for colon cancer, which was a complete success. Panov is now healthy.

READ MORE: ‘This is it’: The cancer treatment that has doctors talking about a cure

WATCH: Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment designed to harness the power of the body’s immune system to fight cancer, find out more in this 16×9 episode “The 4th Pillar.”

Panov’s family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his treatment abroad and were forced to sell their house, but there was no cost to Ford.

“The Panov Program is actually a trial, and there is no cost to patients who are in the trial,” said hospital spokesperson Sally Szuster.

WATCH: Global National Washington Bureau Chief Jackson Proskow spent years covering Rob Ford’s time as Mayor of Toronto. Proskow takes a look back at the charismatic, but troubled politician’s time in office.

  • With files from Adam Miller, Global News

**EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the experimental treatment has not been successful for Ford. It was updated again on March 22, when Ford’s family confirmed that he had passed away.

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