First patient treated at new cancer-fighting cell therapy lab at UC Davis


Local researchers are on the frontlines of a cutting-edge cancer treatment that some are hailing a cure. “Right now, about 40% of patients may have long-term remissions from this, which is remarkable because almost all of those patients would have died of their disease,” said Dr. Joseph Tuscano with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.UC Davis Health is among only a few places in the state to create so-called “cancer-fighting” cells as part of a new cellular therapy program.The treatment is called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR T-cell therapy for short. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017.”It is a way to remove to remove potentially defective immune cells from a patient with cancer and re-engineer them to target and kill the cancer cell very specifically,” Dr. Tuscano explained.Those genetically-modified cancer-fighting cells are now being made in Sacramento, making UC Davis Health the only University of California campus to launch its own lab and one of just a few medical centers in the whole state to do so.In December, Alan Gaines became their first patient to receive his genetically-altered T cells manufactured in the lab.The 77-year-old retired Navy fighter pilot, who flew two tours in the Vietnam War, was fighting an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.After chemotherapy was not successful for Gaines, Dr. Tuscano suggested the new cellular therapy program.”I said, ‘Wow, that sounds good,’ and we did. Here we are,” Gaines said.Despite warnings of the risk of some serious side effects, Gaines said he has been feeling fine. Dr. Tuscano said it looks as though Gaines is headed toward complete remission of his cancer. Follow-up scans in two months will confirm that.Alan’s wife, Ann, describes this as his second, second chance at life.She explained that in 2016, Alan fell off a roof while building a house for Habitat for Humanity. He was able to recover despite a lot of broken bones.Since Gaines, other patients have also signed on for the new cellular therapy program.Doctors say it has had dramatic results against leukemia and lymphoma, and it is now in clinical trials for other types of cancer and diseases. A University of Pennsylvania study published last week in Nature reported the treatment made chronic lymphocytic leukemia disappear in two out of the three patients in an early trial. A 10-year follow-up revealed the cancer was still in remission and yet the CAR T cells remained in the patients’ bloodstreams.

Local researchers are on the frontlines of a cutting-edge cancer treatment that some are hailing a cure.

“Right now, about 40% of patients may have long-term remissions from this, which is remarkable because almost all of those patients would have died of their disease,” said Dr. Joseph Tuscano with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

UC Davis Health is among only a few places in the state to create so-called “cancer-fighting” cells as part of a new cellular therapy program.

The treatment is called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR T-cell therapy for short. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017.

“It is a way to remove to remove potentially defective immune cells from a patient with cancer and re-engineer them to target and kill the cancer cell very specifically,” Dr. Tuscano explained.

Those genetically-modified cancer-fighting cells are now being made in Sacramento, making UC Davis Health the only University of California campus to launch its own lab and one of just a few medical centers in the whole state to do so.

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In December, Alan Gaines became their first patient to receive his genetically-altered T cells manufactured in the lab.

The 77-year-old retired Navy fighter pilot, who flew two tours in the Vietnam War, was fighting an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

After chemotherapy was not successful for Gaines, Dr. Tuscano suggested the new cellular therapy program.

“I said, ‘Wow, that sounds good,’ and we did. Here we are,” Gaines said.

Despite warnings of the risk of some serious side effects, Gaines said he has been feeling fine.

Dr. Tuscano said it looks as though Gaines is headed toward complete remission of his cancer. Follow-up scans in two months will confirm that.

Alan’s wife, Ann, describes this as his second, second chance at life.

She explained that in 2016, Alan fell off a roof while building a house for Habitat for Humanity. He…



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