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Health Spotlight: Cancer fight with CAR T-cell therapy

(WISH) — Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy is a game changer in cancer research saved one girl’s life.

More than 80,000 people will be told they have non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2023. It’s a cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. More than 60 types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma exist. The disease can be difficult to treat. But now, groundbreaking new treatment could change the game for cancer patients.

Brooke Michael has been a catcher for as long as she can remember. “I’ve loved it ever since I put the gear on for the first time.”

Her mom and dad have watched every battle on the field and were concerned when Brooke’s shoulder started hurting her.

Stephanie Michael, Brooke’s mom, said, “She called me one day when her and her sister were at pitching practice and she was in tears saying she couldn’t breathe.”

Brooke was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma. Stephanie Michael said, “She had a massive tumor on her chest. It literally was the size of a softball.”

Six rounds of chemotherapy and 29 rounds of proton radiation helped to shrink it, but the cancer was still there. That’s when doctors at Nemours Children’s Health decided to try a combination of gene therapy and immunotherapy called car t-cell therapy.

Dr. Michael Joyce from Nemours in Florida said, “For the children who are getting CAR T, it’s kind of the last curative therapy.”

T-cells, which are a type of immune cell in the body, are taken from the patient’s blood. Using gene therapy, doctors reprogram the cells to attack cancer cells. Joyce said, “And so, those cells go in the body and they proliferate and start to divide and attack any residual leukemia cells.”

Studies show that up to 40% of the children who get it go into complete remission. It worked for Brooke, and, one year later, she’s back in the game cancer-free.

Brooke said, “It’s just the best feeling being back on the field.”

Her mom said, “We were days away from losing our daughter and now, we’re just back to watching around the softball field.”

The new cancer-killing CAR T-cells stay in the body for months, maybe even years, to provide long-term protection. CAR T-cell therapy is not without risks. There’s a risk of infections, and it can cause fever, low blood pressure, and neurological problems. That’s why it’s typically reserved for patients who have not responded to other treatments or whose cancer has come back.

Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network. This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV.