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New form of cancer treatment is providing hope

Posted: 4:40 PM, Feb 13, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-14 00:30:16Z

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ricky Reece has lived a life of service. He was a military officer with the Air National Guard.  

“Boot camp and the Marine Corp was no piece of work, especially in the ‘70s,” Reece told 41 Action News.  

Reece currently works as a security guard. 

For nearly four decades, he’s served his family as a devoted husband and father, protecting those close to him. 

Now he’s the one in need of protection, and a brand new procedure may be his last hope.

Reece has Large B Cell Lymphoma. After a year of treatment and 10 rounds of chemotherapy, we sat in on what’s considered Day Zero.  

“Used to be people hear the “C” word and think that was that, ah, not anymore,” Reece said. 

His white cells are being extracted only to return as cancer-fighting machines.  

Each re-engineered cell can kill hundreds of thousands of cancer cells. It’s a treatment called Car T.  

Dr. Joseph McGuirk will be treating Reece and walked us through the process.  

“This strategy takes the T-cells out of the patient’s blood and re-engineers them in the laboratory, and teaches them through molecular engineering how to recognize those cancer cells again,” McGuirk said.

The possibilities are exciting to many patients, including Reece.  

“This stuff wasn’t even around three years ago," he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved this procedure in late 2017.  

Only 16 places in the world are trained for this, including McGuirk’s team at the University of Kansas Hospital Cancer Center.  

Cancer patients who have a 7 percent chance of responding to chemotherapy have a 16 percent chance of surviving for two years. With Car T, it’s 50 percent. 

“We’re in the midst of a revolution in cancer medicine,” McGuirk told 41 Action News. 

The revolution comes with reservation. When the Car T cells are re-infused into Reece’s body, it’s critical his immune system is fully suppressed and that he doesn’t get sick. 

McGuirk said there are side effects associated with this treatment.  

“Flu-like symptoms times ten and neurological abnormalities,” McGuirk said. “A few patients in the United States have died from this type of therapy.”

No matter the odds, Reece is determined to fight. It’s something he learned during his days in the military.  

He turns 61 in May and has plans.  

“To get to retirement,” Reece said. “I want to enjoy my retirement and have a retirement. Hell, I’ve worked long enough.”

Right now, Car T is used for blood cancers. It’s currently being tested on solid cancers, and in January the FDA gave clearance to provide this treatment for people with leukemia.