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Health Spotlight | Last chance: CAR T-cell therapy gives lymphoma patients another chance

Last Updated 6 days by Amnon J. Jobi | Amnon Front Page

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Almost 90,000 people will be told they have lymphoma this year. It’s a cancer of the immune system. Specifically, it’s a cancer that targets your white blood cells. Many patients can be cured with a combo of chemo and immunotherapy. But there are some people that this doesn’t help. Now, a new therapy is giving them another chance – possibly their last chance – of being cured.

John Bell is a cigar aficionado, valuing not just the flavor but the connections a stogie fosters.

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“I once heard somebody describe cigars as the great cementer of friendship, and I think that’s true,” John tells Ivanhoe.

But after 24 years, his part-time hobby working at the cigar shop was threatened.

John recalls, “I was noticing some swelling in my cervical lymph nodes on the left side, right in here.”

John was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma — an aggressive cancer of the lymphatic system and underwent six months of chemo.

“I was pretty devastated when we got to the end and found out it wasn’t completely successful,” John expresses.

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Clinical Director of the Cellular Therapy Program at UNC Health, Dr. Natalie S. Grover, MD, believed CAR T-Cell therapy would be his best option.

“It’s using a patient’s own immune cells to specifically target them to a marker on the lymphoma cells. Their T-cells are now specifically targeted to attack their cancer cells,” Dr. Grover explains.

Side effects were harsh – John’s temperature pushed 106. His blood pressure dropped. He spent 18 days in the hospital. But a month later, things got better.

“The hope is that he’s cured with lymphoma,” Grover says.

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Now, John is back in the cigar shop, savoring each and every moment.

“I feel good. I’m completely asymptomatic and it’s almost like it never happened,” John says with relief.

CAR T-Cell therapy is still facing scrutiny. Although the FDA is instructing manufacturers of these therapies to add its highest safety related warning to the treatment, the agency says the overall benefits outweigh the potential risks.

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