New cancer treatment coming to Juravinski Cancer Centre

A new cancer treatment that could extend lives is coming to Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer Centre. It involves genetically modifying a patient’s T cells to turn them into cancer killers. This treatment uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancer.

CHCH News spoke with Blair Chown battling an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, diagnosed in only about 100 Canadians every year. He has been told he has only a year or two to live, but that now could change.

Chown had a career as a millwright for the Ford Motor Company, has been married for fifty years to his wife, Linda and is a father to three and foster dad to fifty. Chown says he has a blessed life, but a 2014 cancer diagnosis is threatening to end it.

“A family physician, a Dr Gal in Leamington looked me in the eye and said Blair, after a biopsy, you have cancer, we can treat it we can’t cure it,” Chown said.

Chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant put his mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma into remission twice. The seventy-one-year-old has now been told it’s back again and he has only a year or two to live.

Chown says he is optimistic because of a new game-changing medication he will soon get at Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton. He is the first patient to receive this treatment at the centre.

“I haven’t given up hope and look what’s happened, something has come up just when I need it,” Chown said.

Dr Ronan Foley is treating Chown, “its complicated science, but the results are quite remarkable.”

Dr Foley says a sample of a type of white blood cell called T cells were removed from Chown and sent to a lab in California where they are being genetically modified into cancer killers, able to track down and destroy cancer cells within his body.

These modified cells are used to create a medication called Tecartus that will be injected into Chown later this month.

“That’s when the action starts, and these cells, very quickly, within hours, start to attack the lymphoma,” Dr Foley said.

Dr Foley says there can sometimes be difficult side effects, but the treatment could lead to full remission, “we’re very optimistic here, based on clinical trial data which is showing responses upwards of 70 per cent… that all said Matt, this is our first patient.”

With a majority of patients finding some level of success, Chown believes his chances are good, “for me, facing the end-of-life situation, scenario, this is absolutely groundbreaking for me.”

Dr Foley says they will know after about thirty days if the treatment is working in Chown. He says Chown will be monitored for weeks after in case any side effects appear.
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