SEATTLE — In 2018, Janice Olson applied for a clinical trial at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, realizing it was her last chance for improvement in her battle against multiple myeloma. "I had exhausted basically all the opportunities for treatment, and I wasn't responding," she said. The cancer had spread to her liver and damaged many bones throughout her body. Two of her vertebrae had collapsed, 5 more had compression fractures, and she was no longer responding to treatment. She was in pain and using opioids to get by.
In March 2018, Janice was accepted into the Phase 1 clinical trial of the CAR-T procedure being led by Dr. Damian Green, a hematologist-oncologist and research scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The study uses T-cells to fight cancer. Dr. Green explained: "A patient's own cells from within their body taken out, modified, re-educated to become cancer attack dogs. Those cells go back into the patient and they actually expand. They're a living therapy. They grow, they divide, attack and destroy the cancer. It's really been quite a breakthrough for us."
In a Phase 1 trial, there is no guarantee. Trials are used to study new treatments and often it's the first time they are being used. Many patients, like Janice, have exhausted all other options. "There was a chance that this would work. And if it didn't work, it was no different than the other path," she told us, "It just made more sense to make the decision to be involved in the trial. And then you just keep on putting one foot in front of the other."
Dr. Green says that the CAR-T trial Janice participated in is, "Something that really has proven, from an efficacy standpoint, to be doing something that is quite dramatic."
"In my case," said Janice, "There is no cancer. Starting about two weeks after the treatment, after I received the modified cells. There's no evidence of cancer in my body." Her blood tests, bone marrow biopsy, PET scan, and urine showed no abnormal cells, no abnormal proteins, no detectable evidence of viable cancer in her body. "I have become stronger than I've been in years and I have the hope that I can continue to be involved in life at a good clip."
Patient participation in clinical trials is an important way to help progress research. "At the Fred Hutch, at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, we are partnering with our patients so that we can make new discovery," said Dr. Green, "It takes a tremendous amount of commitment and bravery on the part of the patient and the teams and staff who are doing research to develop these new treatments."
Fred Hutch scientists have been on the vanguard of harnessing T cells' killing powers against disease for decades, and their world-leading experts are fine-tuning the strategies to treat a variety of cancers. "That is really the wonderful part of this, that ultimately we can see it translated into making a difference in people's lives," said Dr. Green.
How to Support Ongoing Research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Federal funding doesn't cover early-stage research like the CAR-T trial. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center depends on philanthropic contributions. "Every dollar matters and every dollar helps us get that much closer to curing more people with cancer."
To help fund lifesaving research, please donate today at fredhutch.org.