A Powerful Weapon in the Battle Against Blood Cancers
December 17, 2021
A new form of immunotherapy available in South Florida is helping blood cancer patients like Leticia Lopez battle their disease and, in some cases, do it without the toxins and side effects associated with chemotherapy.
CAR T-cell therapy, which has proven to be effective killing cancer cells that reproduce in leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma patients, involves harvesting patient or donor T cells from blood and genetically altering them to produce synthetic molecules called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). The modified cells are then introduced to the body through a blood transfusion, with the CARs enabling the T cells to recognize and attach to a certain protein in tumor cells and kill them without having any effect on healthy cells.
Lopez, a former Plantation resident now living in Henderson, Nevada, has struggled with a form of lymphoma since 2007 and had an inoperable tumor in her neck. In late October she became the first person to receive CAR T-cell therapy in Broward County.
“Blood cancers have traditionally been treated with chemotherapy and while it’s still an important piece of the puzzle, CAR T-cell therapy provides another option,” said Hugo Fernandez, MD, chair and medical director of Moffitt Malignant Hematology and Cellular Therapy at Memorial Healthcare System. “We initially hosted the clinical trial for this therapy, and we’re excited our patients now have greater access to this potentially life-saving treatment.”
The partnership between the Tampa-based Moffitt Cancer Center and Memorial Healthcare System began in 2017 with the creation of a hematology and cellular therapy program on the campus of Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines. It is the is the only facility in Broward and Palm Beach counties currently offering CAR T-cell therapy as a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, transformed follicular lymphoma, primary mediastinal B cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.