Posts tagged ‘leukemia’


Made in City of Hope: T cells – enlisting the immune system to beat cancer

November 21, 2014 | by

The body’s immune system is usually adept at attacking outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But because cancer originates from the body’s own cells, the immune system can fail to see it as foreign. As a result, the body’s most powerful ally can remain largely idle against cancer as the disease progresses. Immunotherapy in general seeks to spur the immune system to action, helping the body fight cancer. One type of immunotherapy —T cell therapy — reprograms immune cells known as T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Stephen Forman

Stephen J. Forman, the head of City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program, is leading a wave of T cell clinical trials, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients.

A wave of clinical trials

Normally, T cells attack bacteria and other infectious agents. In T cell therapy, T cells are isolated from a sample of the patient’s blood, then genetically engineered to seek out and attack a specific cancer. Researchers grow millions of these engineered T cells in the laboratory. The engineered cells are reinfused into the patient, where they go to work eliminating cancer.

Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, has long pursued breakthrough treatments for hematologic cancers and blood-related disorders, and heads up City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program. Under his direction, a wave of T cell clinical trials is underway, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients. » Continue Reading


13-year-old leukemia survivor has one true hero: her brother

November 12, 2014 | by

In February 2003, when she was only 16 months old, Maya Gallardo was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and, to make matters much worse, pneumonia.

Aaron Gallardo hugs his little sister Maya, while she was sick with acute myelogenous leukemia.

Aaron Gallardo hugs his little sister Maya, while she was sick with acute myelogenous leukemia. Aaron’s stem cell donation cured Maya of the disease. (Photo courtesy of the Gallardo family.)

The pneumonia complicated what was already destined to be grueling treatment regimen. To assess the extent of her illness, Maya had to endure a spinal tap procedure; the pneumonia meant it had to be done without anesthesia. Her parents could do nothing but watch, and try to comfort her.

The spinal tap revealed such severe leukemia that doctors at the children’s hospital where she was being treated said she would likely live only a few weeks.

Nonetheless, they stabilized her, and began treating her with chemotherapy. Normally, chemotherapy is not given to pneumonia patients, but because Maya’s leukemia was so advanced, she had no option but to undergo simultaneous treatment for both. If the chemotherapy went well, she would need a bone marrow transplant, the only option for curing her AML. » Continue Reading


City of Hope launches institute focused on hematologic malignancies

October 28, 2014 | by

Cancers of the blood and immune system are considered to be among the most difficult-to-treat cancers. A world leader in the treatment of blood cancers, City of Hope is now launching an institute specifically focused on treating people with lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma, as well as other serious blood and bone marrow diseases.

hematopoietic cell transplantation survivors

City of Hope’s success in treating blood and bone marrow cancers is just the beginning. The institution is launching the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute to speed cures to patients even more efficiently and quickly. Here, survivors of hematopoietic cell transplantation celebrate at City of Hope’s 2014 Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.

Through this institute, laboratory and physician investigators will expand their work and develop new therapies and possible cures for leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. The Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope is built upon a foundation that was created by City of Hope’s Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, and the leader of the institution’s Hematologic Malignancies Program, and Steven T. Rosen, M.D., the provost and chief scientific officer at City of Hope.

Both are known worldwide for the vision, discipline and compassion with which they approach some of the most complex and difficult diseases that afflict men, women and children. Both are committed to continuing to make scientific breakthroughs while caring for patients in the uniquely patient-centered environment for which City of Hope is known.

“Over the years we have seen the development of therapies that, had we known then what we know now, could have saved more lives. The institute will create a collaborative culture of research and individualized care that will accelerate our research breakthroughs for the patients and families who come to us for help,” Forman said. » Continue Reading


Advice from Rob: How to overcome anxiety during a hospital stay

October 22, 2014 | by
Cancer survivor Rob Darakjian

Cancer survivor Rob Darakjian shares tips on how to overcome anxiety and depression while being treated for cancer.

Rob Darakjian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 19 years old. He began chemotherapy and was in and out of the hospital for four months. After his fourth round of treatment, he received a bone marrow transplantation from an anonymous donor. Today, he’s cancer free.

In his first post, he shared his story and explained what NOT to do when you’re depressed and have cancer. In his second post, he explained what cancer patients SHOULD do if they’re depressed. Here, he offers seven tips on how patients can confront cancer and anxiety.

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How to ease anxiety: 

Listen, watch: I find this technique to be particularly helpful when I’m experiencing anxiety at almost any level. I call it “listen, watch” because that’s what I do: I try and place myself in the present moment by paying attention to what I can see and what I can hear. Try to pick up on everything you can hear, from your own breathing, to the faint sound of conversation somewhere outside. Then, after awhile turn to a different sense, say sight, and just look around your physical environment. » Continue Reading


Advice from Rob: What NOT to do when you’re depressed, with cancer

September 24, 2014 | by
cancer survivor Rob Darakjian

Rob Darakjian, a former leukemia patient, shares tips on how to overcome anxiety and depression while being treated for cancer.

Rob Darakjian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 19 years old. He began chemotherapy and was in and out of the hospital for four months. After his fourth round of treatment, he received a bone marrow transplantation from an anonymous donor. Today, he’s cancer free.

Darakjian’s story has a happy ending, but getting there was a tremendous struggle. He suffered from severe depression and anxiety, which prevented him from enjoying any type of activity or experiencing any type of pleasure. Cancer made him feel hopeless, and he found it hard to get out of bed, often spending his days and nights in his room, crying.

His experience isn’t unusual. One in four people with cancer suffer from clinical depression, but for adolescents and young adults with cancer, the isolation can feel especially overwhelming. 

With support from his family and medical professionals, Darakjian was able to overcome his battle with depression and anxiety. He’s now a college student at the University of San Francisco studying philosophy and political science. Here, in the first of a series, he shares his secrets on surviving anxiety and depression while fighting cancer.

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What cancer patients should NOT to do when they’re depressed:

» Continue Reading


Childhood cancer: Know the 12 warning signs

September 1, 2014 | by

Childhood cancer survival rates have increased dramatically over the past 40 years. More than 80 percent of children with cancer now survive five years or more, which is a tremendous feat.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Knowing the warning signs of childhood cancer is the first step in getting a diagnosis.

Despite the survival rate increase, cancer continues to be the No. 1 disease killer and second-leading cause of death in children. In 2014, nearly 1,400 children under the age of 15 are expected to die from cancer in the United States and about 10,450 children will be diagnosed with some form of cancer.

Although there are no widely recommended screening tests for childhood cancers, many cancers can be found early. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms for some of the most common childhood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, neuroblastoma and Wilm’s tumor. » Continue Reading


‘Mini’ stem cell transplant: What is it and how does it treat cancer?

August 29, 2014 | by

Although a stem cell transplant can be a lifesaving procedure for people diagnosed with a blood cancer or blood disorder, the standard transplant may not be appropriate for all patients. This is because the conditioning regimen (the intensive chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments preceding the transplant) is very taxing on the body, and certain patients — such as those who are older — cannot tolerate the toxicity associated with the process.

Because non-myeloablative transplants rely on the anti-tumor effects of the donor cells, patients can be treated with a lower dose of chemotherapy and/or radiation—resulting in an easier-to-tolerate treatment regimen with fewer side effects.

Because nonmyeloablative, or “mini,” transplants rely on the anti-tumor effects of the donor cells, patients can be given a lower dose of chemotherapy — resulting in an easier-to-tolerate treatment regimen with fewer side effects.

But at City of Hope, this does not rule them out of a potentially curative transplant, thanks to our care team’s specialization in nonmyeloablative transplants (also known as a reduced intensity, or “mini,” transplant.)

Here, Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, explains how this relatively new procedure works.

What is a nonmyeloablative stem cell transplant and how does it work to treat cancer?

Nonmyeloablative stem cell transplant is a way of doing a transplant that is not as intensive as traditional transplant regimens. It uses lower doses of drugs than a standard transplant but still enables us to engraft stem cells from a donor. It then works through utilizing the donor stem cells, which builds an immune reaction against the residual cancer cells — hopefully eliminating the disease and preventing it from returning.

Because it is less intensive, nonmyeloablative transplants are generally used for patients who are older or otherwise too frail to tolerate a traditional transplant, and this procedure has allowed us to perform curative transplants in a greater range of people. » Continue Reading


For bone marrow transplant patients, outcomes and data matter

August 22, 2014 | by

Nearly four decades ago, City of Hope began its bone marrow transplant program. Its first transplant reunion celebration was a single patient and his donor, also his brother.

BMT Reunion 2014

City of Hope has performed nearly 12,000 hematopoietic cell transplants, and has the best outcomes in the nation. Here are some of our survivors at the 2014 BMT reunion.

This year, City of Hope welcomed hundreds of hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) recipients to the annual bone marrow transplant/HCT reunion. Since the program’s inception, City of Hope has performed more than 12,000 hematopoietic cell transplants, for patients ranging in age from less than 1 year old to more than 79 years old.

The reunion of bone marrow transplant patients, one of the highlights of the year for City of Hope, underscores the close relationships that City of Hope caregivers have with their patients, even those who have been free of their cancer for decades. The outcomes for the program underscore the importance of those relationships and the high level of expertise provided here: They are among the very best in the nation. » Continue Reading


Adoptive T cell therapy: Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer

August 15, 2014 | by

Immunotherapy — using one’s immune system to treat a disease — has been long lauded as the “magic bullet” of cancer treatments, one that can be more effective than the conventional therapies of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. One specific type of immunotherapy, called adoptive T cell therapy, is demonstrating promising results for blood cancers and may have potential against other types of cancers, too.

In adoptive T cell therapy, T cells (in blue, above) are extracted from the patient and re-engineered to recognize and attack cancer cells. They are then re-infused back into the patient, where it can then target and kill cancer cells throughout the body. (Photo credit: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory)

In adoptive T cell therapy, T cells (in blue, above) are extracted from the patient and modified to recognize unique cancer markers and attack the cells carrying those markers. They are then reinfused back into the patient, where they can kill cancer cells throughout the body. (Photo credit: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory)

Here, Leslie Popplewell, M.D., associate clinical professor and staff physician in City of Hope’s Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, explains what this treatment entails.

What is adoptive T cell therapy and how does it work to treat cancer?

Every day, our immune system works to recognize and destroy abnormal, mutated cells. But the abnormal cells that eventually become cancer are the ones that slip past this defense system. The idea behind this therapy is to make immune cells (specifically, T lymphocytes) sensitive to cancer-specific abnormalities so that malignant cells can be targeted and attacked throughout the body.

Who would be good candidates for this type of therapy? » Continue Reading


In acute myeloid leukemia treatment, infighting just might be positive

July 18, 2014 | by

Elizabeth Budde, M.D., Ph.D., wants to encourage infighting. She aims to turn the immune system on itself — to the benefit of patients with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.

Budde recieves grant to support her study on T cells and AML.

In a new treatment for acute myeloid leukemia, Elizabeth Budde is using modified white blood cells to attack their malignant cousins.

AML arises when abnormal white blood cells grow out of control, amassing in the bone marrow and interfering with normal blood cell development. Blood stem cell transplants are the only hope of cure for most patients with AML; however, many patients eventually see their cancer return.

Budde wants to give patients with relapsed AML a fighting chance by giving them modified white blood cells that attack their malignant cousins.

Her work is garnering increased attention. Budde, an assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, has been chosen as The Jake Wetchler Foundation for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research-Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Clinical Investigator. The accompanying $450,000 grant will support her studies for the next three years.

» Continue Reading