Bag of Cells Sent to California to Be Used to Kill Lymphoma
A lot of the time, medical research seems to be a droll thing. There is a lot of sitting around in a dreary hospital, wearing disposable clothing and eating mushy food while waiting for a test results
Other times, science fiction thrillers should stand up and take notice. Dave Matthews, who had lymphoma that ceased to respond to chemo treatments and thus gone refractory, had this happen to him.
His own white blood cells were extracted then sent to a genetic engineering factory in California, where they learned the art of killing cancer.
A halt to his future
Dave Matthews had been in a relationship with a woman, Diane. They were planning on getting married, but were waiting for all of their children (from previous marriages) to finish school. Matthews had a small business near Boston which sold supplies to fire departments.
A diagnosis of lymphoma threw a wrench into those plans. Dave and Diane accelerated their plans, and married six months later. Though he had cancer, they were happily married. He remained physically fit and mentally positive, even with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a particularly aggressive type.
Then the cancer stopped responding to all treatment. It had gone refractory. He called it the “monster inside me,” and he began to lose the battle.
His doctors had another idea. There was an experimental treatment option. It was new and it was dangerous; several of the previous patients had died. Toxins from the treatment killed their brain, or their body became so inflamed that the fever extinguished their life.
But there was a chance. One third of the participants defeated their cancer with this treatment, and a majority saw a beneficial response, even if small.
This treatment is known as CAR-T. The decision was easy; if he said no, chances were that he would only survive for seven more months. “Why wait?”
Training cells in the art of killing cancer
CAR-T is a type of immunotherapy, which means that it works with the body’s own immune system to fight off the cancer. In Dave Matthews’s case his white blood cells had become blind to the lymphoma, so they needed the outside help.
That help was provided by CAR-T.
The acronym stands for chimeric antigen receptor technology. It is a product of the modern age, the result of hands-on genetic engineering to change blind T cells into hunter-killers capable of seeking out and annihilating cancer.
But the training started with a doctor’s visit. An IV went in each arm and through an apheresis machine. The blood traveled through the machine, which filtered out and collected T cells.
These specialized white blood cells were tested to make sure nothing else makes it into the bag, then were put into a nanocooler, which kept them right above freezing for the airplane ride to El Segundo, California.
Read on to learn more about Dave Matthews and how his cells were trained to kill lymphoma.