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Promise and Progress - Cover Story Sidebar: Our Cancer Reasearch is Curing Other Diseases Too

The Time is Now: 2010-2011

Cover Story Sidebar: Our Cancer Reasearch is Curing Other Diseases Too

By: Valerie Matthews Mehl
Date: November 11, 2010


Ephraim Fuchs and Leo Luznik
Ephraim Fuchs (left) and Leo Luznik

Tracking Bacteria

When Luis Diaz began his clinical studies of bacteria that eat away at the oxygen-starved core of tumors, he needed a way to track the bacteria in patients to make sure it was actually going where it was supposed to and attacking the cancer as it was designed. 

Resident Chetan Bettegowada collaborated with cancer imaging expert Marty Pomper and cancer biology researcher Shibin Zhou to develop a marker that would track Diaz’s therapeutic bacteria, and as it would turn out, any bacteria. The marker is currently being used to help people with prosthetic joints experiencing pain pinpoint the source of the pain.  The marker can tell physicians if the pain is the result of a bacterial infection.

Sickle Cell Anemia
In 1984, Kimmel Cancer Center researchers observed that a leukemia patient, who also happened to have sickle cell anemia, was cured of both diseases as a result of having a bone marrow transplant.  Sickle cell anemia is a painful, blood-forming disease in which red cells are shaped like crescents instead of discs and clog up blood vessels. Until very recently, bone marrow donors  had to be a “perfect” tissue match to the patient to avoid life-threatening immune complications.  In African Americans, the group primarily affected by sickle cell anemia, patients who could not find a match within their immediate families were faced with discouraging odds.  “The chance of finding an unrelated donor is less than 10 percent,” says leading bone marrow transplant expert Richard Jones.

That was until researchers Ephraim Fuchs and Leo Luznik developed haploidentical, or half-matched, transplants.  In this case a parent, most brothers and sisters, and all children of the patient will be a half match.  Since pioneering the therapy, the Kimmel Cancer Center has done more than 200 half-matched transplants, curing patients’ blood cancer, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases.  Patients are treated with the immune-suppressing drug cyclophosphamide following the transplant to stave off complications resulting from a less than perfect tissue match.  Blood stem cells are immune to the drug and repopulate the blood and immune system with healthy cells.

To date, seven patients have been treated for sickle cell anemia, and six remain disease-free, and none experienced immune complications. 

Among the success stories is Pamela Newton.  For more than 15 years she suffered with crippling pain.  It was so severe she was hospitalized at least twice a month and relied on daily doses of pain killers for relief.  Today, after a half-identical transplant, she is cured.  Fifteen years ago, she had to drop out of college due to the debilitating illness.  Today, she is pain free and enrolled in divinity school.

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