In 2010, doctors treated Doug Olson’s leukemia with an experimental gene therapy that transformed some of his blood cells into cancer killers. More than a decade later, there’s no sign of cancer in his body.
The treatment cured Olson and a second patient, according to the University of Pennsylvania doctors, who said it was the first time the therapy had been studied for so long.
“I’m doing great right now. I’m still very active. I was running half marathons until 2018,” said Olson, 75, who lives in Pleasanton, California. “This is a cure. And they don’t use the word lightly.”
His doctors describe the two cases in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. They say the two examples show the treatment, called CAR-T cell therapy, can attack cancer immediately, then stay inside the body for years and evolve there to keep the disease at bay. Such so-called “living drugs” are now used by thousands around the world to treat certain blood cancers.
Based on the 10-year results, “we can now conclude that CAR-T cells can actually cure patients of leukemia,” said Dr. Carl June, one of the authors of the study.
The one-time treatment involves collecting the patient’s own T cells, white blood cells key to the immune system, and genetically changing them in the lab so that they will find and attack cancer cells. The modified cells are given back to the patient through IV.
By the time Olson got the treatment, he’d been fighting cancer for years. When doctors diagnosed him with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1996, he said, “I thought I had months to live.”
He eventually underwent chemotherapy and, at one point, his physician, Dr. David Porter, suggested he may need a bone marrow transplant. Porter also raised the idea of joining a CAR-T therapy study. Olson, CEO of a New Hampshire lab products company, said he was excited by the science and eager to avoid the transplant.
A couple weeks after getting the treatment, he felt sick for about a week and was hospitalized for three days.
“It was the very next week he sat me down and he said, ‘We cannot find a single cancer cell in your body,” Olson recalled.
The other patient, retired corrections officer Bill Ludwig, had similar results.
Over time, researchers said, the modified cells evolved, many turning into “helper” cells that work with the cancer-killing cells. Helper cells eventually became dominant in both patients.
Study author J. Joseph Melenhorst said they were able to isolate and analyze the cells using new technologies, which gave them “very good insight” into how they persisted in the patients’ bodies.
Dr. Armin Ghobadi of Washington University in St. Louis, an expert in gene and cellular immunotherapy for cancer, called the findings “incredible.” Though the word “cure” is rarely used in cancer, he said it appears these patients were “most likely” cured.
He was intrigued by the persistence of the CAR-T cells and the way the living drug evolves.
“That’s just really beautiful to see,” said Ghobadi, who was not involved in the study.
At this point, June said, tens of thousands of patients are being treated with CAR-T cell therapies, which have been approved for certain blood cancers by health authorities around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency first approved a CAR-T therapy treatment in 2017 developed by Penn and the drugmaker Novartis for childhood leukemia.
The Nature study was paid for partly by the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research and partly by National Institutes of Health grants.
Scientists hope to see wider use of CAR-T therapies in the future for other cancers. Last year, a CAR-T cell therapy was approved for multiple myeloma, the most common malignancy of the bone marrow in adults. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma were expected to make up just under 10% of the 1.9 million new cancer cases in the U.S. last year.
“But the big scientific challenge – and it’s a big one – is how to make this work in solid cancers,” like those in the lung, colon and other places, June said.
Even in blood cancers, there are challenges. The therapies are expensive, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the drugs. And there’s the risk of significant side effects, including an immune overreaction called “cytokine release syndrome” and nervous system-related problems such as brain swelling.
Both of the Penn patients did extremely well after the treatment. Ludwig traveled the country with his wife in a motor home and celebrated family milestones before dying early last year of COVID-19 complications.
Olson said he’s extremely grateful for the decade of life since doctors used cutting-edge science to save him.
“What’s changed is the dimension of hope. The pace of discovery takes your breath away,” he said. “It’s a brand new world.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Laura Ungar, The Associated Press
Kingston, Ont., area health officials examining future of local vaccination efforts – Global News
More than 455,000 people in the Kingston region have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Now health officials say they’re using the summer months, with low infection rates, to look ahead to what fall might bring, urging those who are still eligible to get vaccinated do so.
“Large, mass immunization clinics, mobile clinics, drive-thru clinics and small primary care clinics doing their own vaccine,” said Brian Larkin with KFL&A Public Health.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Gerald Evans says those who are still eligible for a third and fourth dose should take advantage and roll up their sleeves during the low-infection summer months.
“Now in 2022, although you still might get COVID, you’re probably not going to be very sick. You are less likely to transmit and ultimately that’s one of the ways we’re going to control the pandemic,” added Evans.
He expects another wave of COVID-19 to hit in late October to early November and that a booster may be made available for those younger than 60 who still aren’t eligible for a fourth dose.
“The best case scenario is a few more years of watching rises in cases, getting boosters to control things and ultimately getting out of it with this being just another coronavirus that just tends to cause a respiratory infection and worst-case scenario is a new variant where all the potential possibilities exist to have a big surge in cases and hopefully not a lot more serious illness,” said Evans.
Public Health says they’re still waiting for direction from the province on what’s to come this fall.
“We’re expecting that we would see more age groups and younger age groups be eligible for more doses or boosters but about when those ages start, we have yet to have that confirmed,” said Larkin.
The last 18 months of vaccines paving the way for the new normal could mean a yearly COVID booster alongside the annual flu shot.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Monkeypox detected in Norfolk County | TheSpec.com – Hamilton Spectator
The monkeypox virus has found its way to Norfolk County.
The health unit announced on Friday that a Norfolk resident has tested positive and is currently isolating at home.
Contacts of the infected resident have been notified, according to a media release from the health unit.
“There is no increased risk of monkeypox to the general public stemming from this case,” acting medical officer of health Dr. Matt Strauss said in the release.
“Outside of an emergency situation, if you have symptoms of monkeypox, it is important to stay home and call your doctor to be assessed. When seeking medical care, you should wear a high-quality medical mask and cover up all lesions and open sores.”
Monkeypox is spread by direct physical contact, most often by touching a rash on an infected person’s skin but sometimes through “respiratory secretions” if in close proximity for a prolonged period, the health unit said.
“Most people infected with monkeypox will have mild symptoms and recover on their own without treatment,” said the release.
Symptoms lasting between two and four weeks can include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, low energy, muscle aches, skin rash or lesions, sometimes starting on the face or genitals and spreading elsewhere.
The health unit says symptoms usually start between six and 13 days of exposure to the virus.
The Halton region recorded its first confirmed case of monkeypox earlier this month.
Close contacts of monkeypox patients are eligible to receive the smallpox vaccine, which also provides protection against monkeypox.
Mass vaccination campaign against Monkeypox needed, experts say – Global News
As the World Health Organization calculates whether to declare monkeypox a global health emergency, infectious disease experts are urging health officials to be more proactive and start ramping up vaccinations and surveillance — especially in African nations where the virus is most prevalent.
The WHO convened its emergency committee Thursday to consider whether the spiralling outbreak of monkeypox should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” the WHO’s highest level of alert.
But the United Nations agency is facing criticism over its treatment of monkeypox — jumping into action only after the disease started to spread in rich western nations.
The viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions is endemic in parts of Africa, which means it is consistently present in certain regions. The continent has registered just over 1,500 suspected cases since the start of 2022, of which 70 have been fatal, according to the WHO.
By comparison, Canada has confirmed over 200 cases, the majority of which are in Quebec, and has had no deaths.
“There are more cases that occur in Africa on a yearly basis than have already been reported outside of Africa right now. And there are more deaths that have occurred in Africa from monkeypox than have occurred in the rest of the world,” said Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious disease physician and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University.
That’s why he believes Africa should be getting the lion’s share of resources to deal with monkeypox — and that should include mass vaccinations, he says.
“I think Africa needs to be looked at with high, high priority,” he said.
“It needs to be a mass vaccination campaign for monkeypox with the newer vaccines for people in the African continent, especially in the high endemic areas.”
He’s not alone.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, a physician and infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, says she also believes more people living in regions where monkeypox is more prevalent should be vaccinated.
“That will actually stop it in endemic regions in this non-endemic outbreak.”
That the WHO is only now taking monkeypox seriously is “profoundly problematic,” Gandhi says, given that the disease has been spreading and killing people in Central and West Africa for years.
Monkeypox has about half of Canadians worried, but most confident with health response: poll
“It’s been circulating since 1958. There are increasing outbreaks — a severe one in Nigeria, for example in 2017 — and it’s only really essentially when this has affected high-income countries that the WHO is jumping on it.”
Experts who have worked on monkeypox in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo have long taken note of rising cases while population immunity to pox viruses has been decreasing, due to lack of vaccination. This is why the world shouldn’t be surprised at the current outbreaks, said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California, who has studied monkeypox for two decades.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how quickly a deadly virus can spread across the globe when the right conditions are present, so health officials ought to learn from this and start being more proactive, she said.
“When it comes to infectious diseases, in particular those viruses that have the potential for global spread, it’s much easier to stay out of trouble than it is to have to get out of trouble.”
In addition to providing vaccines, health officials should also be ramping up resources to study this disease and do more surveillance to get a better understanding of monkeypox and learn why it is spreading in new and unusual ways, Rimoin said.
“We’ve given this virus a lot of runway to be able to spread. We have not been looking for it as vigilantly as we should be,” she said.
“I think we have to learn the lessons that we’ve learned with COVID-19 and that it is much better to invest ahead of time to get in front of these viruses, to do the kind of surveillance it’s necessary to be regularly updating our knowledge about viruses.”
Good disease surveillance is just as important in poorer countries as it is in “high-resource settings,” she added.
Like many countries around the world, Canada and the United States stopped vaccinating the general population against smallpox by around 1972, which means many on this continent are highly susceptible to pox viruses like monkeypox.
Given that scientists expect to see more emerging infectious diseases due to factors such as climate change, deforestation and globalization, the world should start getting better prepared for new outbreaks, Elsayed said.
This is why, in addition to calling for vaccinations and more resources to fight monkeypox in Africa, Elsayed believes governments in developed nations should also consider more options to protect citizens from pox viruses, including possibly re-introducing mass smallpox vaccinations.
“I believe that these vaccines should come on board again for the general population … but not (just) for monkeypox, but also to protect the world against perhaps a smallpox pandemic that can happen in the future, or even another virus that’s closely related to monkeypox but hasn’t reached humans,” Elsayed said.
He stressed this should only be considered after addressing the more pressing needs in Africa first.
WHO looks into reports of traces of monkeypox found in semen
Rimoin noted that when the world stopped vaccinating against smallpox, it opened a “gap of immunity” for populations to once again be vulnerable to it. And with the emergence of a number of new pox viruses in different parts of the globe, including mousepox, cowpox and camelpox, the world is not immune to new outbreaks, she said.
“We now have to really think about, How important is it for us to be able to keep pox viruses out of the population?” she said. “What are the stakes of allowing this virus to spread? And then acting accordingly.”
-With files from Global News reporter Reggie Checcini and Reuters.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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