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Health: Promising T Cell Therapy For Hard To Treat Cancer

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)--Experimental therapy for hard to treat cancer is showing more promise.  3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has the latest.

This cutting edge therapy is putting advanced cancer patients in remission, and local patients are benefiting.  It's happening here in Philadelphia, as well as New York City.

Father Dennis Billy, of Wynnewood, was diagnosed with a hard to treat leukemia.  But thanks to a groundbreaking new treatment he's been in remission for more than two years.

"It's sort of like making medicine out of your own body," said Father Billy.

It's called T cell therapy, and it got a big head start in Philadelphia.  The studies at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are focusing on curing patients, not just getting them well enough for bone marrow transplant, like in Father Billy's case.

Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he's being treated, took out his immune cells, modified them in a lab, and then put them back in to recognize and destroy his cancer.

"This is really one of the watershed moments where we find that we actually can modulate the immune system to recognize cancer," said Dr. Renier Brentjens, Study Researcher.

Father Billy is one of 16 patients in the trial.  Eighty-eight percent of them achieved complete remission.

"When we infused these cells into the patients, the patients became sick as if they had a bad infection.  But once the cancer cells go away as they're being killed off by the immune system, that immune response goes away as well," said Dr. Brentjens.

Father Billy's personalized T cell treatment allowed him to undergo a successful bone marrow transplant.

HUP is now beginning new trials for patients with non-hodgkins lymphoma to be treated with T cell therapy.  It's hoped that the therapy could one day also treat breast and colon cancer.

For more info on Penn Medicine T Cell Trial, visit:

For more info on The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia T Cell Trial, visit:

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