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Cancer Kickin’ Warrior: A new treatment that cures leukemia | Columnists

You may have heard of a new treatment that cures leukemia called CAR T cell therapy. The treatment removes T cells, virus-fighting white blood cells, from a patient’s blood and genetically modifies them to fight the cancer. The modified cells are injected back into the patient’s circulation. To save you trouble, I have researched the information on this and referenced where you can find it, at the end of this article.

Ten years ago, a trial conducted at the University of Pennsylvania involved two patients, Doug Olson and Bill Ludwig, who suffered from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In 2010, Doug Olsen described how, several weeks after receiving the treatment, he became very ill with a short-term side effect known as cytokine release syndrome; however, the attending physician, David Porter, MD one of the trial authors, found no evidence of leukemia.

The trial’s first author, J. Joseph Melenhorst, PhD, set up the lab at the University of Pennsylvania to monitor patients treated with CAR T therapy. A decade after the initial treatment, CAR T cells had remained detectable in both patients. Melenhorst said, “The killer T cells did the heavy lifting to eliminate the tumor.”

Dr. Carl H. June, director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania, also said: “Ten years [post infusion]we don’t find any of the leukemia cells and we still have the CAR T cells patrolling and watching for residual leukemia. When Olson donated his cells to the center after 9 years, researchers found that his cells were still able to destroy leukemic cells.

Now, despite more encouraging findings in blood cancers, even with these, “the biggest disappointment is that CAR T-cell therapy doesn’t work on all patients,” said co-author David Porter, MD, the University of Pennsylvania oncologist who treated both the patients. There have been no studies indicating that CAR T cell therapy has promising results on solid cancers.

Dr June says: “There seem to be a number of reasons, including that the [solid] the tumor is more complex, and these solid cancers have ways of evading the immune system that must be overcome.

Now, with all of these breakthrough results brought by CAR T, there is a downside, the cost. Richard T Maziarz, professor of medicine at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University, says, “When considering all of the costs associated with chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, hospitals can charge $1.5 million or more just to break even. Medicaid patients could be charged $2 million. This includes $475,000 for the drug tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah; Novartis). You can predict fights with insurance companies.

Warriors, when a cancer is dormant, we say the cancer is in remission; but this is the first time we can use the word “cure” when it comes to cancer and mean it.

As promised, you can find this information at:

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