Revolutionary treatment at KU Cancer Center giving relapsed patients ‘stunning results’

WESTWOOD, Kan. -- The future of cancer treatment is rapidly changing and it is helping save lives.

Brad Zackert, who's fought non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for more than decade, can attest to that.

"I was in remission for seven years, which I thought I had it licked then, and found out that it was back, and in 2016 I had a stem cell (treatment)," Zackert said. "It was my own stem cells, which is a good thing, and I thought I had it licked again, thought I’d be good for 20 years. And on my two-year anniversary I had a PET scan, and it came back."

Although the weight of his returning cancer was heavy, there was good news for Zackert and his wife, Janet. His second relapse qualified him for CAR T-cell therapy, a revolutionary cancer treatment.

"It’s a therapy that’s truly personalized, precision medicine whereby we take patients T-cells out of their blood," said Joseph McGuirk with the University of Kansas Cancer Center. "T-Cells normally should prevent us from developing cancer, but they fail us when we develop a cancer. They are genetically re-engineered in a laboratory, expanded, and then infused back into the patients. We’ve seen some truly stunning results in patients not previously seen."

McGuirk said this particular treatment has shown to be most effective for patients battling leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Patients who have qualified to date have been patients who have relapsed and chemotherapy-resistant disease. For those patients, survival is expected to be really quite short and numbered in months, not years. They are extremely unlikely to any subsequent chemotherapy," McGuirk said.

"This is something that has been evolving for a couple of decades now on the shoulders of many men and women in scientific laboratories throughout our nation and is now coming to fruition," McGuirk said. "To take a, for example, 25-year-old with leukemia who has relapsed and is resistant to therapy and only expected to survive for a couple of months and get that patient into complete remission and potentially have cured them -- oh gosh, that’s what it’s all about for our team."

In Zackert's case, it took only 30 days for doctors to see his cancer was in remission. That's news that came at a perfect time for the Zackert family.

"To think that after such a short period that he was in complete remission, and I think one of the first to be at complete remission that early, we’re thrilled, absolutely thrilled. God is good," Janet Zackert said. "It’s our 25th wedding anniversary. July 31st. To get the news that he was in complete remission was the best gift I could ever get."

It's a gift Brad Zackert is also grateful to receive, especially after he almost balked at undergoing a treatment, that at the time, was experimental.

"I’m just so very thankful that I did decide, and it took a family. It took my kids and my wife talking about it. It seemed like the obvious choice that we have to go forward and give this CAR-T a chance and thank goodness. It's worked," he said.