CAR T-cell therapy turns blood cells into cancer fighters

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A new gene therapy is helping to turn blood cells into cancer fighters. (KABC)

Researchers have moved forward with a gene therapy that turns a patient's blood cells into cancer fighters.

In a major study, a third of lymphoma patients had no signs of the disease six months after treatment. The potential game-changer is called CAR T-cell therapy.

Jeffrey Backer said he didn't think he'd ever swing another golf club again.

"I never really expected to be here today," said Backer.

As cancer took over his body, he tried chemotherapy and even a stem cell transplant.

"The secret to being a successful cancer survivor is just stay alive long enough until technology catches up to your disease," said Backer.

Backer was hopeful that had happened. The new form of immunotherapy helped turn Backer's T-cells into fighters.

"It's pretty amazing to see patients go into remission, that we really had low hope of standard therapies working," said Dr. Frederick Locke, an oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Locke said the T-cells are removed from the patient and sent to a lab. Then they're reprogrammed so they can detect and kill cancer cells. Those new T-cells are later infused back into the patient.

"They activate for a fight and they kill the target cells, the cancer cells in this case," Locke explained.

Backer said the CAR T-cell therapy wasn't easy.

"But in the back of my mind I knew the outcome was going to be good," said Backer.

Signs of the disease started disappearing within a week. Now Backer is in complete remission.

"A lot of people die waiting for this opportunity," said Backer.

According to researchers, the therapy has kept more patients headed in the right direction.

The new immunotherapy has been tested on patients like Backer with aggressive diffuse large B-cell lymphoma - one of the most common malignancies.
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