A 10-year-old girl with leukemia became the first in Taiwan to have been successfully treated with a new form of immunotherapy.
The patient, identified only as Ting-ting (亭亭), underwent CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy at the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH).
CAR T-cell therapy is an immunotherapy treatment that became prominent in 2012 after 6-year-old American girl Emily Whitehead was successfully treated for her leukemia in a clinical trial.
During a news conference, Ting-ting’s doctors revealed that the patient initially received targeted chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with pediatric B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 6. For a period of time, her remaining cancer cells were undetectable after receiving a three-year chemotherapy regimen for high-risk groups.
The doctors recommended using CAR T-cell therapy on Ting-ting after her leukemia recurred last year.
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The therapy involves the extraction of immune cells called T-cells from a patient’s blood.
The cells are modified by adding a gene for a CAR before being injected back into the patient. The modification makes them attach to the specific cancer cell antigen.
In April, Ting-ting’s cancer went into complete remission soon after she was infused with CD19 CAR T-cells. According to the doctors, the patient even spent her 10th birthday with her family at home.
The patient’s mom lamented the difficulty in explaining the cancer diagnosis to her young child, which she eventually likened to “having a cold” that would go away after taking her medicine.
She then thanked the medical team for discussing the option of CAR T-cell therapy with her.
Ting-ting’s case shows that the CD19 CAR T-cell therapy has the potential to help other children in Taiwan, where, according to NTUH’s Department of Pediatrics Director Lee Wang-tso (李旺祚), cancer is the second-leading cause of death among children.
However, since the treatment is currently not covered by the National Health Insurance, Ting-ting’s parents were forced to sell their home to pay the cost amounting to NT$10 million (approximately $334,180).
The hospital said that the National Health Insurance Administration is reviewing whether to cover such treatments for future cases.