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Treating Non-Hodgkin lymphoma with CAR T cell therapy

A new type of immunotherapy harnesses the power of a patient's own body to kill a rare form of cancer.

LOS ANGELES, California — Fever, weight loss, chest pain, back pain — all of these symptoms are signs of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that begins in your lymphatic system and travels quickly throughout the body. Now, a new immunotherapy is giving patients a second chance they never thought they would have.

Chuck Fata puts everything he has into running the family’s four Italian restaurants, but in 2014, a constant dull back pain threw Chuck for a loop.

“We got an MRI to see what was going on, and it was cancer and I couldn't believe it,” Chuck said.

Chuck was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He underwent chemo, a bone marrow transplant and even had half of his stomach, part of his pancreas, and his spleen removed. But cancer continued to spread. City of Hope hematologist and oncologist, Dr. Tanya Siddiqi, M.D., suggested CAR T cell therapy.

“CAR T cell therapy is a way to take a patient’s own healthy immune cells called T cells, and change them in the lab in a way that instead of looking for infections to fight infections, the CAR T cells then, are trained to look for the lymphoma and fight the lymphoma instead,” Dr. Saddiqi explained.

Chuck’s own T cells were genetically engineered in the lab to target a specific protein found in cancer cells.

“It takes about two to four weeks for the CAR T cells to be manufactured, and then, right after some chemo, we give patients back their CAR T cells, and within a month, we see that oftentimes, patients are in a complete remission," Dr. Saddiqi said.

A month after Chuck’s infusion, he got the good news.

“She said, ‘You're in remission.’ And that was kind of unbelievable to hear,” Chuck recalled.

“I would say cured. If you go beyond five years in his type of disease, we call it a cure," Dr. Saddiqi said.

“Car T not only saved my life, but they gave me the same life. I had it before cancer and that is amazing,” Chuck celebrated.

Dr. Saddiqi said 40% to 45% of her non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients who had no other options, were saved and are alive five years after their remission due to the new CAR T cell therapy. City of Hope is one of the first four sites worldwide to enroll patients in the CAR T therapy trial. It has now been approved by the FDA for use in adults with aggressive lymphoma.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at ann.sterling@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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