In recent years, promising new possibilities have emerged in cancer treatment—providing new hope and opportunities for healing. But choosing the best next steps requires both a caring and supportive medical team—and access to the best treatments available.
Thankfully, at the Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health Cincinnati Cancer and Cellular Therapy Center (3CTC), choosing and pursuing cancer treatment is personalized. Their staff align each treatment plan toward protecting the patient and improving outcomes every step of the way.
Diane Shapiro, RN and Transplant Coordinator, has worked with the Jewish Hospital Cancer Center for more than 27 years. “I love the team approach we have,” she says. “It’s not just doctors—we have an amazing group that includes nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, as well as a dietitian, social worker and psychologist. It truly takes a village for a successful outcome for patients and their families.”
There’s more. The first chimeric antigen receptor T cell immunotherapy (CAR-T) was approved as a treatment for leukemia in 2017, and since then, CAR-T protocols have been approved for some types of lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
“As soon as we heard about CAR-T, even when it was still in clinical trials, we thought it was important for our patients to have access to this potentially life-saving therapy,” says Dr. James Essell, medical director of 3CTC. “We’re the first in the region to have this for adults.”
What Is CAR-T Therapy?
CAR-T begins with collecting lymphocyte cells called T cells from the patient. These cells are genetically modified in a lab to specifically attack the cancer. The cells are grown in the lab, and they are then infused back into the patient’s blood. The modified T cells attach to the malignant cancer cells and kill them. CAR-T continues to multiply and expand in the body to fight the cancer.
Dr. Essell explains that CAR-T is a targeted form of cancer treatment called cellular therapy, which helps the body to attack cancer itself, rather than having chemotherapy or radiation doing the primary cancer-fighting work.
The Who and the How
CAR-T immunotherapy is currently only considered in candidates whose cancer has not gone into remission during two or more previous chemotherapy attempts. Many of these patients would previously have had few, if any, options for continuing treatment effectively.
While research is ongoing, at least one study shows more than a third of cancer cases going into long-term remission after the treatment. Dr. Essell has reason to believe that cured patient percentages will rise even further due to continued innovation in the world of cellular therapy.
Multiple CAR-T therapies have been approved by the FDA—early successes have prompted many new trials to provide CAR-T for other cancer types, since each treatment is specific to the particular kind of cancer.
3CTC is part of that ongoing innovation in cancer care, opening a new patient infusion center in April 2022 that will allow them to expand their capacity and do even more in the fight against highly resistant cancers.
From the Eyes of a Patient
One Mason resident and CAR-T patient at 3CTC has brought his unshakable faith with him during a difficult lymphoma journey. Even on his toughest days, Gordon Massa lends inspiration to both 3CTC staff and patients with his powerful spirituality and encouragement of others.
After multiple unsuccessful chemotherapy rounds, Gordon was referred by his local oncologist to the team at the Jewish Hospital. Through the intake and evaluation process, he became a candidate for CAR-T treatment.
While a challenge of CAR-T can be its potential side effects—which often necessitate consistent monitoring and care—the medical team and Gordon’s family created a network of care around him for those crucial first few weeks.
“Our family, our village, wanted to help any way they could … we were very grateful. Getting this treatment only 15-20 minutes away from home made it all possible,” says Gordon. “Everyone has been helpful through this process. Diane’s attitude was positive and encouraging, and she calmed the waters several times.”
Gordon’s wife, Lianne, became his main caregiver during CAR-T treatment. “All the nurses and doctors have been amazing,” she adds. “They all bring something to the table.”
At his 60 day PET/CT scans, Gordon’s cancer was found to be in remission.
Gordon and other patients like him know that having teammates on your side during tough times is essential for persevering and trusting the treatment process. And at 3CTC, they’re definitely in good hands.
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