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17-year-old is declared cured of cancer 10 years after undergoing revolutionary therapy

A teenager who was given only weeks to live as a child battling leukemia has been declared cured of cancer ten years after a revolutionary treatment. therapy.

Emily Whitehead, 17, of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, was just six years old when she became the world’s first pediatric patient to receive CAR T-cell therapy — a treatment in which a patient’s own cells are designed to attack cancer cells.

The 2012 clinical trial was the last option for Emily, whose acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) had become resistant to conventional therapies. She has been cancer free ever since.

“Spreading awareness about treatments like CAR T-cell is very important to me,” she told People. “It’s a miracle I’m alive—and I’m so grateful.”

Emily Whitehead, 17, of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, has been declared cured of cancer ten years after undergoing groundbreaking treatment

Emily Whitehead, 17, of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, has been declared cured of cancer ten years after undergoing groundbreaking treatment

Emily was five years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2010.  A month after starting chemotherapy, she went into remission.

Emily was five years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2010. A month after starting chemotherapy, she went into remission.

Emily’s cancer journey began in 2010, a week after she received a clean bill of health at her annual checkup.

Emily relapsed in October 2011 and only had a 30% chance of survival

Emily relapsed in October 2011 and only had a 30% chance of survival

Her mother, Kari, noticed that she had unusual bruising on her body and then bleeding gums. She also woke up in the middle of the night with crippling pain.

Kari told the outlet that she googled her five-year-old daughter’s symptoms and found that these were “the classic signs of leukemia.”

Days later, doctors at Penn State Health in Hershey, Pennsylvania, diagnosed the toddler with ALL, and she received 26 months of chemotherapy treatment.

Kari said it was a “rough start” for Emily, who had a dangerously high fever during the first few weeks of treatment. She also nearly had to have both her legs amputated after developing a rare infection.

Despite her initial struggle, the treatment worked and a month later she was in remission. However, Emily suffered a relapse in October 2011, and the then six-year-old had only a 30 percent chance of survival.

“The news was more devastating to us than her original diagnosis,” Emily’s father, Tom, recalls. “I told Emily that if I had to crawl to the North Pole, I would, if it was necessary to find someone to fix her.”

Emily (pictured with her parents Tom and Kari Whitehead) became resistant to treatment after her leukemia progressed rapidly

Emily (pictured with her parents Tom and Kari Whitehead) became resistant to treatment after her leukemia progressed rapidly

By February 2012, her health had deteriorated to such an extent that she was ineligible for a bone marrow transplant to treat the disease

By February 2012, her health had deteriorated to such an extent that she was ineligible for a bone marrow transplant to treat the disease

Emily’s leukemia progressed rapidly and became resistant to chemotherapy. By February 2012, her health had deteriorated to such an extent that she was not eligible for a bone marrow transplant to treat the disease.

Her parents were told they were out of options, but they refused to give up. Tom took Emily for a second opinion at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“I was just praying like, ‘God, if you’re up there, we need help right now.’ I was sleeping a little but not really and all of a sudden I saw Emily at CHOP. And I saw her get better,” he told People.

Tom, who wrote about the vision in his book Praying for Emily: The Faith, Science, and Miracles That Saved Our Daughter, knew she would recover after that moment.

After her parents were told they were out of options, they took her for a second opinion at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

After her parents were told they were out of options, they took her for a second opinion at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

Emily became the world's first pediatric patient to receive CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment that manipulates a patient's own cells to attack cancer cells

Emily became the world's first pediatric patient to receive CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment that manipulates a patient's own cells to attack cancer cells

Emily became the world’s first pediatric patient to receive CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment that manipulates a patient’s own cells to attack cancer cells

In May 2012, a bone marrow test showed all of her cancer was gone just 23 days after she had the treatment

In May 2012, a bone marrow test showed all of her cancer was gone just 23 days after she had the treatment

Emily was able to beat the odds thanks to groundbreaking treatment made available just when she needed it.

dr. Stephan Grupp, the inaugural director of the Susan S. and Stephen P. Kelly Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at CHOP, was just approved to open the first Phase 1 trial for CAR T-cell therapy in pediatric patients with ALL.

“CAR T-cell therapy harnesses the power of a patient’s own immune system by redesigning their T cells to attack proteins found on the surface of cancer cells,” he said. CHOP.

There were risks involved, but Emily’s parents agreed to include her in the process. Kari explained that it was “not a hard decision” to make given their lack of options.

Emily and her family founded the Emily Whitehead Foundation in 2015 to raise awareness for CAR T-cell therapy

Emily and her family founded the Emily Whitehead Foundation in 2015 to raise awareness for CAR T-cell therapy

Emily and her family founded the Emily Whitehead Foundation in 2015 to raise awareness for CAR T-cell therapy

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“In the end, her results far exceeded our most optimistic expectations,” said Emily’s physician, Dr. Stephan Grupp (photo)

Emily has been cancer-free for ten years and was declared cured when she turned 17 in May.  She recently got her driver's license and is applying to colleges

Emily has been cancer-free for ten years and was declared cured when she turned 17 in May. She recently got her driver’s license and is applying to colleges

“The alternative was to go home to the hospice and just watch her die,” Tom added.

Emily was the first pediatric patient ever to receive the CAR T-cell therapy, as well as the first person of any age to receive it for ALL.

In May 2012, a bone marrow test showed that all of her cancer was gone just 23 days after she had the treatment.

Three years later, she and her family launched the Emily Whitehead Foundation to raise awareness for CAR T cell therapy.

CAR T cell therapy (or chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy) is a form of immunotherapy that uses the power of a patient's immune system to fight the disease

CAR T cell therapy (or chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy) is a form of immunotherapy that uses the power of a patient’s immune system to fight the disease

WHAT IS CAR T-CELL THERAPY?

CAR T-cell therapy is a treatment in which a patient’s cells are manipulated to attack cancer cells.

It involves taking a specific immune cell — known as T cells — from a patient’s blood. T cells help the body fight infection by detecting viruses and other pathogens before they are killed.

These cells are then changed in a lab to express a gene that codes for a specific receptor that binds to a protein on the patient’s cancer.

Once these cells are re-infused into a patient’s blood, their immune system is ‘reprogrammed’ to recognize and fight tumors.

CAR-T – chimeric antigen receptor T cell – therapy is therefore tailor-made for each patient.

It is suitable for people with advanced or worsening blood cancers who do not respond to treatment or have relapses.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved two CAR-T cell therapies in 2017.

Emily has been cancer-free for the past ten years and was declared cured when she turned 17 in May. She recently got her driver’s license and is now applying to colleges.

The Whitehead family shared their incredible story in the documentary Of Medicine and Miracles, which debuted at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in June.

“Ten years ago, we had no idea what to expect,” said Dr. Grupp to CHOP about the therapy. ‘Would the treatment work? Would it last? Ultimately, her results exceeded our most optimistic expectations — not only did the treatment for completely uncontrolled disease work, but her engineered T cells endured and prevented relapse for what is now 10 years.

“Since then, at CHOP, we have treated more than 440 patients with this therapy, and thousands of pediatric patients around the world have also received it. It’s really revolutionized pediatric cancer care, and it started with Emily.’

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