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Proceeds from gala go to development of personalized cancer medicine

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Around 4,000 people will be at Kansas Speedway Friday night for "Treads and Threads," a gala to benefit K.U. Cancer Center. FOX 4's John Holt is the emcee. Proceeds go toward development of personalized medicine for cancer patients.

Steve Johnson spent two months in the University of Kansas Hospital in 2011 battling leukemia. The Prairie Village man received not one, but two stem cell transplants from his sister. In between transplants, Steve received something else from her -- an infusion of lymphocytes, blood cells that are key to the immune system and the body's ability to fight invaders. In Steve's case, the invaders were cancer cells that remained,

"We needed to eradicate and get rid of those cancer cells. We knew the ability of the donor's immune system to do that -- to attack and kill those cancer cells was very powerful," said Dr. Joseph McGuirk.

Steve says the infusion set up a new immune system in his body.

"That recognized the cancer cells as foreign invaders and wiped out the last of the cancer cells," Steve said.

Two years later, Steve is still cancer-free.

"Extremely grateful," said Steve.

But Dr. McGuirk said the lymphocyte infusion caused problems with Steve's bone marrow and blood counts, so he needed the second stem cell transplant.

In the not-too-distant future, those transplants and the high dose chemotherapy that necessitates them may be unnecessary. Researchers are working to make the infusions of immune cells specific to each patient's needs.

"Select out the individual cells that are responsible for killing the cancer cells and get rid of all the other cells that cause this collateral damage," said Dr. McGuirk.

The doctor believes a revolution is underway in the fight against leukemia and related diseases.

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