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Engineered Stem Cells Treating Cancer In North Texas

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MANSFIELD (CBSDFW.COM) - North Texas cancer patients have the option for genetically engineered stem cell treatment for the first time in the U.S.

Chuck Dandridge of Mansfield may still look the same—but, roughly 90 percent of his DNA is a re-gift from his son who donated stem cells for an experimental treatment.

"He says 'you guys gave me life, and now it's my turn to give you life'…and I really appreciate that," says the semi-retired executive from his Mansfield home. Still, recovery has been a journey.

"It was bad, it was so bad," says his wife of 40 years, Johnie, quietly clasping his hand. "I could talk about it for about five minutes," adds Chuck, "anything longer than that and I'd become emotional… I was worried."

Then, about a year ago, Dandridge took part in a clinical trial at Dallas' UT Southwestern Medical Center. He became the first adult in the nation to take part in an experimental cancer treatment involving engineered stem cells. After harvesting stem cells from his son, researchers modified the cells to sidestep a rejection disease that occurs when donors aren't a perfect match.

"Graft versus host disease is a major complication," says Madhuri Vusirikala, MD, Dandridge's doctor and an expert in Blood Cancers and Bone Marrow Transplants at UT Southwestern.

"The older you are… so if you have this magic switch that can stop the graft versus host disease, you can treat lot more patients. More people can be healed… more people can be transplanted."

Still, Dandridge had to fight his way back. At times, he says he was so weak that he couldn't lift a finger: but, a man of faith, he says he was always able to look up… and recalls the time he felt something grab his shoulder. Twice.

"I called for my wife and no one was there: and there was no one in the room but me. And I told my wife, look somebody grabbed me on my shoulder and one of two things was happening…God was telling me I got this, or the Devil came after me and God said, you're not going to have him."

Now, doctors say Dandridge's leukemia is in remission and he has returned to a full and active life.

"I believe it was a miracle," and then after a pause, "a blessing and a miracle."

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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