New treatment against childhood leukemia comes to Miami

MIAMI (WSVN) - A new procedure approved to help patients fend off childhood leukemia is coming to South Florida.

The breakthrough treatment, which uses the patients’ own blood cells, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and 7News crews got a look at the process at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Wednesday.

Doctors are calling the CAR-T cell treatment “ground breaking” and has already been proven successful in 83 percent of the patients who have been studied.

Nine-year-old Sebastian Roo is one of 3,000 children who suffer from lymphoblastic leukemia, and he could be a candidate to receive the treatment at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Currently, the center is the only facility in Florida offering a similar CAR-T cell treatment for children suffering from lymphoblastic leukemia as part of a clinical trial.

“It’s really the only option left for him at this point,” said one doctor.

Doctors said this is a custom-made treatment because it’s unique to each patient.

“[They] now can receive this therapy which is their own cells, and in most cases based on previous studies, go into remission, which is amazing,” said Dr. Edward Dela Ziga, of pediatric hematology at University of Miami Health.

In the CAR-T therapy, researchers take the T cells from the patient and then those cells are filtered from the patients’ blood. After, doctors program the cells with a special gene so they can zero in on the cancer and then grow hundreds of copies. Doctors will then put the cells back into the patient, which will then fight the disease for months or potentially years.

“Reading about CAR-T cells, we have had the hope that it would, at some point in time, it would become more widely available,” said Alexander Roo, Sebastian’s father, through a translator.

The 9-year-old was diagnosed four years ago and has since had numerous therapies and a bone marrow transplant. Doctors said this is his best chance of remission.

“He’s starting to show signs of the leukemia is coming back,” said the director of pediatric hematology-oncology at UM Health System at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Julio Barredo. “We have the opportunity to be cured of his leukemia and live a long life as every child should.”

Sebastian’s dad had one more thing to say, and he wanted to say it in English. “This is great progress, this is amazing people and amazing doctors,” said Roo. “I appreciate all to do for my boy.”

The Roo family is hopeful that Sebastian can take part in this treatment.

If you’d like to learn more about the treatment, call doctors at (305) 243-7648.

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