New cancer treatment cause for hope

Photo by Jimmy Nguyen

Jimmy Nguyen


My Gaby passed away July 16, 2017, at Mercy Medical Center, Sioux City, Iowa. Her aspiration while studying at the University of Nebraska at Omaha was to become a math teacher; one who would help under-confident students overcome the horrors of trigonometry and calculus. She was, unfortunately, diagnosed with brain cancer her second year of college at age 19. However, not even this horrific news stopped her from continuing life. She unbelievably continued school and even continued her volunteer work while in a wheelchair.

She did not complain about her devastating illness; not even once. She fought fiercely until the end. Gabriela “Gaby” Lemus-Cancino left us with the lesson of having strength and perseverance. She was a true warrior.

How do you let go of someone you have loved for so long? It is impossible. Cancer has taken the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world each year. Even with today’s technological advances in medicine, doctors still cannot find that “perfect” cure to this malicious disease. However, this generation may be witnessing the rise of a more effective approach— gene therapy.

Kymriah (CTL019) or “tisagenlecleucel” is a novel immunocellular therapy and a one-time treatment that uses a patient’s own T-cells to fight cancer. This treatment has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used in children and young adults with relapsing B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, aka “ALL.” According to Novartis, a global healthcare company, in ALL patients the factories of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets within the bone marrow are unable to supply a sufficient amount for the body—causing ALL patients to have numerous blood-related complications such as anemia. Therefore, Kymriah may be the curative application for which medical professionals have longed for.

The living drug, Kymriah, works when there is a person with relapsed ALL. Its modifications allow it to be reintroduced into the patient with no issue of rejection since the cells came directly from the patient. Kymriah functions by recognizing, binding and killing very specific cancerous blood cells. Essentially, it is a T-cell based therapy that specifically eliminates cancer cells without doing damage to normal cells. This search-and-destroy method has been extremely effective.

In regards to the effectiveness of Kymriah for cancer treatment, it has truly been a breakthrough in cancer research. According to Dr. William Tapprich, in previous trials, the success rates have only been at 10 percent. Whereas now, it is at a staggering 70 percent. Before, relapse of the disease was very serious because even with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a 5-year survival rate is often under 10 percent in children and young adults. However, with this new development in individualized cancer treatment, it has transformed ALL’s prognosis in kids from often fatal to largely treatable: about 90 percent of young patients now recover.

With the development of cancer- fighting gene therapy, I hope this new treatment could someday help others like Gaby. The future of the world begins with the trials and errors of today. Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. With one small step at a time, more gene therapies can be developing to combat even the most difficult and stubborn of cancerous diseases. As evident, the development of Kymriah is a gateway towards these new opportunities— ones that make medical professionals hopeful.