Dr. Joseph McGuirk is the Division Director of the Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics at the KU Cancer Center. He's in charge of the CAR-T therapy clinical trial.
In this procedure, T-cells are removed from the patient, mechanically re-engineered and reinserted into the cancer patient. The altered T-cells attach to and kill the cancer cells.
"54 percent of patients went into complete remission by re-engineering their T-cells to recognize their cancer and destroy that cancer," said Dr. McGuirk.
The current clinical trial focuses on patients diagnosed with various forms of lymphoma that are not responding to conventional treatments.
"We are really and truly in the midst of a revolution in treating these cancers in much more effective ways without all the collateral damage of high dose radiation and chemotherapy," Dr. McGuirk explained.
Emily Dumler, of Shawnee, Kansas, is the first of three people in the world with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma to participate in the CAR-T clinical trial.
"I had 6 months to live so this was my last hope," said Dumler.
One month after being injected with her mechanically engineered T-cells, she started feeling better.
"I didn't feel anything when I had the injection, but in a few days the intense pain in my stomach, I didn't have it anymore," Dumler explained.
She did have an unexpected side effect. Dumler said she couldn't breathe through her nose. That side effect disappeared, and Dumler feels great.
Dr. McGuirk said there is more work to be done. Researches are focused on finding out why 54 percent of patients are treated successfully and others do not respond to the CAR-T therapy.
Dr. McGuirk said some patients died after receiving CAR-T therapy, and researchers are looking at those cases to find answers in hopes of making the CAR-T therapy more effective for more people.
Scans that once showed cancer rampant in Dumler's body have disappeared. Now she said it is her honor to participate in a clinical trial that could change the outcome for cancer patients worldwide.
"That's all I think about is how can other people be like me," Dumler added.