Innovative new blood cancer treatment now available to patients in Vermont

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 6:16 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A revolutionary cancer treatment that doctors say cures up to 80% of blood cancer patients is now available at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington. Our Kiana Burks reports on the difference it can make for people in our area.

“My birthday was on Monday; I turned 54 years old. Can you believe that? I can’t believe it,” Lily Sickles said.

Another birthday is in the books for Sickles, who has been cancer-free for over a year.

“But I feel great, and I hope I have a lot more birthdays because of CAR T,” she said.

Sickles suffered from non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. Chemotherapy put her cancer into remission, but not for long. After considering other options, her doctor referred her to the Dana Farber Hospital in Boston where she received CAT T cell therapy which saved her life and cured her disease.

“They took my blood out, they spun it around to get the T cells, sent them to California, altered them so that they could attach to the cancer. They made millions of them, sent them back and put them in me and they made it all up. It was great,” Sickles said.

Doctors say CAR T cell therapy eliminates cancer in 50%-80% of patients.

“This patient received CAR T cells... Just three months later, this was her scan completely free of disease,” said Dr. James Gerson, the CAR T cell program director at the UVM Medical Center.

Until recently, the treatment was unavailable to cancer patients in Vermont and Northern New York. Now, that same treatment Sickles had to travel hours for is available at the UVM Medical Center.

“It made things harder when you’re going through a hard time to begin with to have to travel, you know, three and a half, four hours for treatment is not the most ideal situation,” she said.

“Many of the patients who live here are more rural, they may be involved in some ways with farm work and they really aren’t able to leave or don’t want to leave. And so being able to offer this therapy to them, to allow them to stay close to home, I think, is really going to have a dramatic impact,” Gerson said.

Cancer specialists say CAR T cell therapy is for patients suffering from blood cancers like lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma, and is seen as a last resort for patients when other methods fail.

“This really is unprecedented in the treatment of such patients because, again, as I mentioned before, most of these patients have been really offered all available treatment options and you know, really previous to this had no hope of any long-term remission or cure,” Gerson said.

Sickles says she’s happy to see the treatment expanded to the greater Burlington area and hopes it leads to more success stories like hers

“It’s really a life-altering situation,” she said.

Doctors at UVM say the treatment costs about $400,000, but patients like Sickles say the long-term effectiveness of the treatment makes it all worth it.

“It just has a great track record of helping people,” she said. “I’m thrilled that more people are going to be able to try it. The more places that offer CAR T cell therapy the better.”