CAR-T cancer therapy is a win for immunocompromised kids like Grace

AFL player Ben Brown recently shared a story about his cousin Grace’s battle with cancer, imploring people to stay home during the pandemic to protect people with compromised immune systems.

AFL player Ben Brown recently shared a story about his cousin Grace’s battle with cancer, imploring people to stay home during the pandemic to protect people with compromised immune systems.

In 2011, Grace, then 6 years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She went through years of chemotherapy which weakened her immune system so much that she almost died twice. After 3 years of treatment, she finally went into remission.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end. Just 6 months later, the blood cancer came back.

Paediatric cancer patients who have already been through chemo often can’t make it through another round of treatment because of their severely compromised immune system. But Grace’s case was even more complex because she has Down’s Syndrome. People with Down’s Syndrome are immunodeficient and particularly prone to lower respiratory infections.

Chemotherapy was not an option for Grace. She was told she had months, if not weeks, to live.

But then Grace was given one hope for survival – a groundbreaking new cancer treatment called CAR T-cell therapy. She was the first Australian child with Down’s Syndrome to receive this treatment.

CAR T-cell therapy is a new treatment that has an incredible 90% full remission rate for several blood cancers including the one Grace had, lymphoblastic leukemia. Such a rate was previously unheard of prior to this treatment.

This therapy uses the patient’s own T-cells. T-cells are the cells in your body that kill off pathogens like bacteria and viruses as well as mutated cells. However, when mutations fly under the radar of T-cells, they can grow out of control and become cancer.

Unlike chemo which destroys the immune system, CAR T-cell therapy strengthens it.

In order to treat cancers, the T-cells are taken from the cancer patient. In the lab, special receptors called Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CAR) are added to the cells, making CAR T-cells that seek and destroy cancer cells like trained assassins. Once the lab has grown millions of these CAR T-cells, they reinject them back into the patient’s body to kill off the cancer. The patient’s immune system then produces memory T cells so if the cancer returns, the body will remember how to fight it.

After months of intense treatment, Grace, now 14, found out she had no more cancer cells.

Although there’s still a 60% chance the cancer could return, this is a wonderful outcome for someone who thought she only had weeks to live.

This treatment has given renewed hope not just for Grace but for all cancer patients who can’t receive chemotherapy because of immunodeficiencies.  


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