CAR-T Therapy Offers Individualized Cancer Treatment Using a Patient’s Own Immune System

February 25, 2020

Seventeen-year-old Jack Quinlan was having the best spring break of his life while fishing with his Dad in Arkansas when he started experiencing back pain.  As a premier soccer player, Jack had experienced pain before but nothing like this. When he returned home, he immediately saw his orthopedic specialist, Lorin Brown, MD, who ran a series of tests which showed he had a number of wedge compression fractures in the T12 area of his spine. Dr. Brown referred Jack to the pediatric specialists at Lurie Children’s who performed more tests as well as a biopsy of his bone marrow. 

On June 2, 2017, Joanna Weinstein, MD, Hematology, Oncology, Neuro-Oncology & Stem Cell Transplantation; Director, Cancer Predisposition Program, delivered the devastating news that Jack had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia B-cell (ALL), a cancer that affects the white blood cells. He immediately underwent chemotherapy at Lurie Children’s but after two months, the chemotherapy was not working.

“Jack’s ALL was not responding to standard treatment so we were exploring other options,” said Sonali Chaudary, MD, pediatric stem cell transplant specialist. “We had just become an approved FDA site to administer a new immunotherapy for blood cancers with KITE CAR T-cell therapy, so we offered that treatment to the family. Prior to the availability of CAR-T cell therapy his refractory would likely have been fatal.”

Individualized CAR-T therapy uses a patient’s own immune system to fight certain types of cancers. A patient’s T cells are extracted and reprogrammed outside of the body to recognize and fight cancer cells and other cells expressing a particular antigen.

“His care team told us Jack would be a good candidate for this treatment,” said Barbara Quinlan, Jack’s mom. “Since conventional treatment wasn’t working we were thankful that there was another option available to us.”

On September 5, 2017, Jack received his “Ninja powered cancer fighting cells” as the family refers to them. Soon after the infusion, though, he started to experience the side effects associated with the treatment called cytokine-release syndrome, aka “the Storm.” This is when the newly-modified T-cells start to attack the cancer cells and the patient may experience high fevers, fluctuating blood pressure, and temporary memory loss.

“Jack had a tough go of it,” said Barbara.  “Watching your child go through this was very difficult, but we had faith in our team and in Jack that he would get through it. The team was amazing and had an answer for every question we had in regards to the phases of the storm. Eventually Jack came through it, that’s all that matters.” 

After he recovered from this very difficult treatment which included a stem cell transplant a few months after the CAR-T cell therapy, he and his family received the news they had hoped for: the treatment worked and his cancer is in remission.

“I’d like to thank the stem cell team, all of my nurses, and everyone I had the privilege of meeting while I went through my journey. The relationships I formed over the short time I was treated will last a lifetime, and those relationships are the reason I kept a positive mindset throughout it all,” said Jack who is now finishing his third semester at Purdue Northwest majoring in Biology/Environmental Science and enjoying his avid outdoor lifestyle. 

“The magnitude of this life saving breakthrough in medicine is a testament to so many people behind the scenes that we’ve never met that brought this therapy to life,” said John Quinlan, Jacks father. ”They saved our son’s life. There is no greater gift, and for that we are eternally grateful.”