Doctors at Brown Cancer Center say the 'sky is the limit' for ne - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Doctors at Brown Cancer Center say the 'sky is the limit' for new t-cell therapy

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Dr. Jason Chesney Dr. Jason Chesney
Dr. William Tse Dr. William Tse

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Life is pretty good these days for Gary Bowman.

Two years after the 61-year-old financial adviser became the first person in Kentucky to get a so-called tandem bone marrow transplant for a rare and aggressive type of myeloma, he is cancer-free.

"I feel like I've been given a second life as a result of this transplant," Bowman said.

What makes Bowman's treatment unique is that after getting one bone marrow transplant using his own stem cells, he got a second one using marrow from his brother.

"All the people worldwide, 11 people matched me," he said. "And one of them happened to my brother. So I was very fortunate."

The bad news is that Bowman's cancer could come back.

But the Brown Cancer Center in Louisville is about to launch a trial of a therapy never tried before. The goal is to permanently destroy cancer in patients with multiple myeloma, but also t-cell leukemias and lymphomas, blood cancers that are currently considered a death sentence.

"This type of cancer is usually very resistant to any currently available chemotherapy drug," said Dr. William Tse with the Brown Cancer Center, who is leading the trial. "So the fate of these patients rapidly marches toward death in a very short period of time.

"This technology is not only very effective but also highly precise."

T-cells are the body's fighters against disease, including cancer. And, in some people, those t-cells fall asleep and stop doing their job, allowing cancer to grow. With this new therapy, doctors will remove a patient's t-cells and attach a disabled virus aimed at waking the t-cells by allowing them to grow Chimeric Antigen Receptors, or CARs, that train t-cells to hunt down and kill cancer cells. These CAR t-cells are then injected back into the patient.

"This is the ultimate immunotherapy because it is literally your own immune system, your own cells, attacking your own cancer cells, and convincing it to do this," said Dr. Jason Chesney, Director of the Brown Cancer Center. "This is almost identical to therapy just approved by the FDA last month that, in trials, got rid of b-cell leukemia in 83 percent of patients.

"This new therapy will, along with multiple myelomas, attack t-cell leukemias and lymphomas ... (which is) much more dangerous because, to kill the cancer, t-cells will have to be destroyed: the same t-cells your body needs to fight disease, leaving patients, essentially, with AIDS."

Chesney said the CAR t-cells will be designed to be short-lived but to work long enough to train the body's good t-cells to be permanent cancer-killers.

"Our researchers have come up with ideas to harness that technology, allow it to go after leukemia, but then turn it off," he said.

And, if the therapy works as hoped, patients could see their cancers wiped out quickly.

"Within a matter of days, when you do this in mice, you can get rid of leukemic cells completely," Chesney said.

The impact of this trial could be enormous. Ten-thousand people die each year from t-cell leukemias and lymphomas. Another 15,000 die from multiple myeloma. But if this trial proves successful, the possibilities are extraordinary.

"We know that we can use the same technology to target any protein on any cancer cell. So the sky's the limit," Chesney said. "You could end up with killer CAR t-cells that go after lymphoma, melanoma, lung cancer, breast cancer, rena cell carcinoma."

If you have or know someone who has one of these cancers, the Brown Cancer Center wants you to be a part of this trial. You don't need your doctor's referral, and the treatment is virtually free.

If you'd like to participate, click here.

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