New Hope In Leukemia Treatments

Have Doctors found the cure for cancer?What would you do when all your options have run out?

For Nick Wilkins, it seemed very much like his options had.  Diagnosed with leukemia at the tender age of 4, he had already undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant.  Still, the ugly disease kept coming back again and again.  When Nick was 14, John, his father, sat down with him and started talking about experimental therapy.

John Wilkins remembers the experience, “I explained to him that we’re running out of options.”  The idea was to travel from their home state of Virginia to Philadelphia’s own University of Pennsylvania to undergo experimental therapy.  How did young Nick react?  “He understood he could die,” Wilkins says.  “He was very stoic.”  Nick agreed to the therapy, and months later, he became part of the experiment here in Philadelphia.

What was experimental about the treatment?  These new treatments were a far cry from what Nick had experienced before.  Instead of attacking the cancer with poisons like chemo and radiation, the doctors at the University of Pennsylvania trained Nick’s immune cells to go into battle.  His T-cells became skilled cancer killers.

The Happy Result: Remission

After two months of treatments, Nick was cancer-free.  Six months after the personalized cell therapy, doctors could not find a trace of leukemia in his system, and CNN reported on the remarkable study.  Continual updates on Nick’s progress can be found at his CaringBridge site.  At the time of the CNN report, there were 21 other children who received the same treatment, and 18 of them went into complete remission.

Nick’s father is hopeful about his progress.  “It gives us hope that this is a cure. They’re really close. I think they’re really onto something.”

“This is absolutely one of the more exciting advances I’ve seen in cancer therapy in the last 20 years,” said Dr. David Porter, a hematologist and oncologist at Penn. “We’ve entered into a whole new realm of medicine.”

How does the Therapy Work?

To put it VERY simply, doctors remove the T-cells from a patient’s immune system, and reprogram them by transferring in new genes.  Later, the T-cells are infused back into the body, and they multiply, boosting the immune system’s cancer fighting abilities.  The treatments often give the patients flu-like symptoms, but are not affected in the same way that chemotherapy patients can suffer.

The University of Pennsylvania plans to work with other medical centers to test the therapy in other patients.

Doctors are hopeful about the continuing remission of young Nick, and we wish him good health.

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