TERMINAL blood cancer patients have been offered fresh hope after a revolutionary new drug has been found to kill off cancer cells.
Doctors at King's College London claim that the new treatment has been able to completely cure cancers in a way "never been seen before".
1 After each bout of chemo, Mike's cancer came back but now he's taking CAR-T therapy, his cancer is "on the run"
One patient who has benefited from the pioneering treatment is Mike Simpson.
He was diagnosed with an aggressive blood cancer after he returned home from holiday with a stiff and swollen neck in 2015.
Despite two gruelling bouts of chemo, the cancer returned and by the end of last year, he was told that he had little time left.
But then he was offered this new "living" therapy, known as CAR-T therapy.
He started it in February and scans have revealed that it's working; he told the BBC that his cancer was now "on the run".
What is CAR-T?
It's a highly personalised drug that's made for each patient using their body's own cells.
White blood cells called T-cells are removed from the patient's blood before being frozen in liquid nitrogen and sent away to labs in the USA.
There, they're genetically reprogrammed so that rather than killing bacteria and viruses, they now seek out and kill cancer.
Then they're shipped back to the UK to be infused into the patient's bloodstream where they'll hopefully continue to grow and work inside the patient.
The whole process takes a month.
Because it's very new, there's not enough data to say for sure how effective the new therapy is but clinical trials have shown incredible results.
40 per cent of patients had all signs of their terminal lymphomas removed from their body just 15 months after treatment.
Why effective only for blood cancers?
It's shown the most promise in dealing with cancers like lymphoma and leukaemia because there's less "collateral damage".
CAR-T cells target proteins that stick out from the surface of cancerous cells.
Cancerous cells have a kind of protein attached to them – but so do healthy cells.
So CAR-T therapy currently targets these proteins, whether they're healthy or not.
That's OK if it's a blood cancer you're dealing with but if you've got lung cancer, for example, you can't kill off bits of the lung without killing/seriously impacting the health of the patient.
Symptoms of leukaemia and lymphoma
There are no specific signs or symptoms which would allow for a doctor to make a diagnosis without lab tests.
In all types of leukaemia symptoms are more commonly caused by a lack of normal blood cells than by the presence of abnormal white cells.
As the bone marrow becomes full of leukaemia cells, it is unable to produce the large numbers of normal blood cells which the body needs.
This can lead to:
- Weakness and tiredness
- More frequent infections
- Bleeding and bruising
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause many different signs and symptoms, depending on the type of lymphoma and where it is in the body.
Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Swollen abdomen (belly)
- Feeling full after only a small amount of food
- Chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath or cough
- Severe or frequent infections
- Easy bruising or bleeding
However, the side effects are worse than chemo.
Short-term effects can include confusion, fatigue difficulty speaking and a loss of consciousness.
Pricy – but worth it
Because it's so personalised, CAR-T therapy is incredibly expensive.
Each patient costs more than £280,000.
But the NHS has struck a deal with pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences so the hope is that soon, other patients like Mike will be able to access it.
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"It is a very exciting new development and it gives new hope to a lot of our patients," Victoria Potter, consultant haematologist at King's College Hospital told the BBC.
She added: "It's amazing to be able to see these people, who you may have not been able to give any hope to, actually achieving remission.
"And that is a situation we have never seen before and it's an incredibly impressive change in the treatment paradigm."