Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

New technology giving hope to Oklahoma cancer patients

OKLAHOMA CITY - Chemotherapy is the most common choice when it comes to fighting cancer.

But the problem is, it doesn’t always work and it almost always takes a heavy toll on the body.

Now, oncologists at OU’s Stephenson Cancer Center are offering new hope when chemo fails for patients with lymphoma, using the body’s own immune system to fight disease in what’s called CAR-T Therapy.

“This is a therapy that uses a subset of white blood cells that have been altered genetically to attack cancer cells,” Dr. George Selby, the Director of the Transparent and Cellular Therapy Program at OU’s Stephenson Cancer Center, said.

To make that happen, doctors take a patient’s blood and send it to a lab.

Technicians then inject T-cells from the body’s own immune system with a virus that carries a genetic mutation that changes the way a T-cell works.

“They have a receptor that develops on the T-cell that attacks cancer,” Dr. Selby said.

“It’s been tested in patients who have not responded to other forms of therapy,” Dr. Adam Asch, the Director of the Stephenson Cancer Center, said.

The blood is then reintroduced into the body, only this time the body’s own immune system is re-programmed to attack cancer cells on its own.

“Through basic science research, it’s become clearer how the immune system works better,” Dr. Selby explained. “And once you know how those parts are, you can manufacture parts to do what you want to do.”

Before now, patients here in Oklahoma who needed access to the cutting-edge therapy had to travel to Houston or even the coasts to get it, but they were often already weakened by the heavy physical toll cancer takes.

“Patients struggling with the disease at that point, having to leave the state and their family, that’s just the wrong time to have to manage that,” Dr. Asch said.

Advanced lymphomas in adults are the first condition the treatment will tackle, but doctors will later use CAR-T Therapy to work against blood cancers in children.

Doctors at the Stephenson Center say we’re only at the beginning of cellular therapy.

Tests are now underway to expand CAR-T’s scope.

“This is, in fact, the dawn of an era of cellular therapy, and this is therapy which is going to be directed in months and years at solid tumors,” Dr. Asch said.

Expanding the application of the therapy is a great development for those battling an unforgiving disease.

“It’s going to be more effective and less toxic, and so being engaged in those clinical trials is really what the Stephenson Cancer Center is all about,” Dr. Asch said.

OU’s Stephenson Center is ready to treat patients starting Thursday, June 13th with CAR-T Therapy, likely making it a magnet for cancer patients all over the country.

The Stephenson Center ranks in the top 2% of cancer centers in the United States.

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